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Facebook is launching a fact-checking team in Canada to fight fake news

The social media giant has already launched fact-checking initiatives in 14 countries, including the U.S.

by Rachel Browne
Jun 27 2018, 7:50pm

Facebook announced Wednesday that it's launching a fact-checking initiative to combat fake news in a 15th country: Canada.

The social media company will partner with Agence France-Press (AFP) to vet Canadian news content posted onto its platform. Facebook has already launched the third-party fact-checking initiative in 14 countries, including the U.S., through partnerships with certified fact-checking news agencies. AFP, which already carries out Facebook’s fact-checking program in France, will start work next month with journalists it is hiring on the ground in Canada.

The new contingent of Canadian fact-checkers will review news stories published to Facebook that have been flagged or that they identify as problematic. They will then verify their factuality, and rate their accuracy. The move to combat fake news comes amid growing concerns about the spread of misleading information through social media — and its impact on political processes.

For years, Facebook has been inundated with Russian trolls, especially during the 2016 presidential election, that have disseminated fraudulent and divisive content viewed by millions of Americans. The company has been attempting to improve the quality of news posted on the platform and root out fake stories and accounts.

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"We are committed to fighting the spread of false news and misinformation on multiple fronts, employing a variety of tools and tactics,” Facebook Canada’s head of public policy, Kevin Chan, said in a press release. "In addition to the fact-checking program, our tactics include disrupting financial incentives, taking action against fake accounts, applying machine learning to help diminish spam, reducing the posts people see that link to low-quality web pages, and providing people with easier access to additional perspectives and information."

Stories that receive a false rating by the official fact-checkers are then pushed down in the news feed in an attempt to decrease the number of people who see it.

The Canadian program is expected to continue at least until after the next federal election in October 2019, and will cover a number of provincial elections in the meantime.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been the target of fake news campaigns. The American fact-checking site Snopes recently debunked a meme of a fabricated quote from Trudeau that said: “We don’t need U.S. farmers anymore, we have grocery stores.”

Snopes traced the origin of the fake quote to a thread on QAnon.news, a site it described as “dedicated to a bizarre right-wing conspiracy theory dealing in everything from ‘Pizzagate’ to the ‘Illuminati.’”

A Trudeau spokesperson slammed the scourge of misleading information that festers across different social media platforms, including Twitter.

"Even where fact-checking organizations do exist, there aren't enough to review all potentially false claims online."

“Social media companies should immediately take action to fight back against those who deceive and manipulate for political gain,” spokesperson Cameron Ahmad told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday . “Right now it remains clear that more action must be taken.”

But even Facebook admits the fact-checking initiatives aren’t a catchall solution.

"Even where fact-checking organizations do exist, there aren't enough to review all potentially false claims online,” Tessa Lyons, a Facebook product manager, wrote in early June. "Over the last 18 months we've made good progress, but we're also aware of the limits of this program. Fact-checkers don’t exist in all countries, and different places have different standards of journalism as well as varying levels of press freedom.”

Lyons added that it can take fact-checkers hours or even days to review one claim.

“And most false claims aren't limited to one article — they spread to other sites. To make real progress, we have to keep improving our machine learning and trying other tactics that can work around the world.”

Cover image: Photo taken in May 2018 shows a poster put up by Facebook Inc. in New York to raise awareness about fake news. (Kyodo via AP Images)

This article originally appeared on VICE News CA.