Facebook is redesigning the settings menu on mobile devices. Picture: REUTERS
Facebook is redesigning the settings menu on mobile devices. Picture: REUTERS

In an effort to crack down on fake news and false information, on Thursday Facebook announced a third-party fact-checking initiative with Africa Check and news agency AFP.

Facebook has been under pressure to clean up the stories it shares after the scandals around the Brexit vote and US elections in 2016, when Russian internet trolls were exposed for their manipulation of voter sentiment.

Recently the pages for the Infowars website were finally shutdown for its patently false posts, including conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook massacre.

"When fact-checkers mark a story as false, we reduce its exposure in news feed, leading to 80% less exposure," Emilar Gandhi, Facebook's public policy manager for the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region said in Johannesburg.

Acknowledging "challenges on our platform around fake news and false information", she said: "We know third-party fact-checking is not a silver bullet".

Last week Facebook disclosed a hack that affected 50-million users, which Gandhi said the company was still investigating.

Sarah Brown, Facebook's training and news literacy manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said it had ramped up its fight against fake accounts. "We remove over one-million fake Facebook accounts a day, and we do them very fast, mostly through artificial intelligence," she said.

Africa Check's Anim van Wyk said the organisation would help Facebook "weed out misinformation". Its overall mission is ultimately to help "policy makers and the public make informed decisions".

The service will currently run only in English, although Africa Check's researchers do speak other languages. A lack of local context and language understanding has been blamed, among others, for the spread of hate speech in Myanmar and India.

It will focus specifically on content "inciting violence, compromising people's health, false health cures, fake crime rumours and anything that can lead to harm".

"We will do it with the same rigorous fact-checking that you've come to know from us," she said.

AFP were not in attendance at Thursday's event, however global news director Michèle Léridon said: “We are delighted with this new contract with Facebook in South Africa and Kenya alongside Africa Check, which is renowned for its fact checking work in Africa".

"The different initiatives set up by AFP in the fight against disinformation testify to the agency’s expertise and credibility in the verification of information at a time when false news is proliferating.”

Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff magazine