Facebook is finally rolling out its fake news identification tools, starting in Germany. Seeing as it’s currently facing two lawsuits in the country, the social network’s decision to start its cleanup of bogus content outside of the U.S. is no coincidence.
In an announcement on its Newsroom blog, Facebook manager of journalism partnerships Áine Kerr states the tools will begin rolling out in Germany in the next few weeks.
Facebook unveiled its fake news-oriented updates in December, following a mounting backlash blaming the spread of misleading and hyper-partisan content on its site for “swaying” the U.S. election. The company’s new tools rely on its algorithms, user reporting, and third-party fact checking organizations that are signatories of Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Code of Principles.
Kerr states that one of the external organizations aiding Facebook is Correctiv (a German investigative journalism non-profit) — more groups will be added to the list once they are accepted into Poynter’s program. Correctiv’s managing director, David Schraven, told German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung his non-profit first met with Facebook to discuss fake news in fall of last year. Schraven adds that the “litmus test” for his organization will be to monitor news on Facebook relating to the regional election in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, in May. Correctiv’s team of 25 employees will analyze both popular news stories that perpetuate “propaganda lies” and individual content uploaded by users. Referring to the latter, Schraven adds: “Fictitious stories of crimes are probably the most important type of fake news on Facebook.”
Earlier on Sunday, BuzzFeed reported that misleading articles and conspiracy theories are among the most popular type of content on social platforms in Germany. It found that misleading stories relating to German Chancellor Angela Merkel are generating tens of thousands of comments, shares, and likes in the lead-up to the federal elections, due to take place later this year.
One of the alleged victims of fake news in Germany is currently suing Facebook. The defamation lawsuit filed by 19-year-old Syrian refugee Anas Modamani claims Facebook failed to take down a series of posts linking him to violent attacks, including Brussels Airport bombing of March 2016. The case comes in the wake of the comments made by German Justice Minister Heiko Maas urging state prosecutors to crack down on the spread of “malicious gossip” and “defamation” online.
“Facebook is earning an awful lot of money with fake news,” Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag last month. “A company that earns billions from the internet also has a social responsibility. Prosecutable defamation must be deleted immediately, once reported. It needs to be made easier for users to report fake news.”
Facebook also faces a separate lawsuit that alleges the company has ignored the dissemination of hate speech on its site, in violation of German laws.