Dec 17, 2019 - Technology

Exclusive: Facebook adding part-time fact-checking contractors

Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Facebook is creating a new pilot program in the U.S. that will leverage part-time contracted "community reviewers" to expedite its fact-checking process.

The big picture: The community reviewers will help to corroborate or debunk stories that Facebook's machine learning tools flag as potential misinformation. This will make it easier for Facebook's fact-checking partners to quickly debunk false claims.

  • Facebook's third-party fact-checking partners are approved by Poynter's International Fact-Checking Network.
  • It set up the practice of outsourcing the selection of fact-checking partners to Poynter in 2016 to avoid having to make any decisions about fact-checkers that could be clouded as biased.

Why it matters: The company has come under fire for being too slow to identify content as misinformation.

  • But Facebook doesn't want to hire anyone who could have any sort of bias. This third-party contractor strategy, it hopes, will solve that.

Details: Facebook will hire the "community reviewers" through a third-party contractor called Appen, which sources, vets, selects and qualifies community reviewers.

  • Appen will provide Facebook with a large, diverse and distributed pool of reviewers that reflects the diversity of age, gender, ethnicity and geography of Facebook users in the U.S.
  • The reviewers will be tasked with researching potential misinformation once it is flagged by Facebook's machine learning tools.
  • Their goal is to look for information anywhere easily accessible on the web that can either contradict the most obvious online hoaxes or do the opposite, and corroborate other claims.

Be smart: The reviewers are meant to be representative of everyday Facebook users, so they don't have any sort of particular expertise in fact-checking.

  • This is done intentionally by Facebook because it wants the sources that they pass over to third-party fact-checkers to be unbiased, and akin to what an average Facebook user would find if they searched for news articles to assess the validity of a piece of information they found on Facebook.
  • Facebook wouldn't say how many part-time contractors are being hired, but it says the number will vary as the pilot is evaluated and that Appen will be responsible for making staffing adjustments based on scaling needs.

As an additional safeguard, Facebook says it's partnering with YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, to ensure that the pool of community reviewers represent the diversity of people on Facebook.

  • Facebook says that ahead of the pilot's launch, YouGov has determined that the requirements Appen has used to select community reviewers will lead to a pool of people that is representative of the Facebook community in the U.S., and that it should reflect the diverse viewpoints on Facebook, including political ideology.
  • It also says YouGov found that the judgments used by community reviewers to corroborate claims were consistent with what most people using Facebook would conclude. They concluded this by conducting two parallel surveys of behavior by Facebook users compared to potential community reviewers.

Between the lines: Facebook says this effort is a result of conversations over several months with experts, like academics and researchers, as well as consulting with its fact-checking partners.

  • In particular, it's consulted experts like David Rand, associate professor of management science and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT; Paul Resnick, associate dean for Research and Faculty Affairs at the University of Michigan School of Information and director of the Center for Social Media Responsibility; and Joshua Tucker, professor of politics at NYU and co-director of NYU Social Media and Political Participation lab.
  • Facebook notes that it's been considering trying something like this for a while.

What's next: Facebook says, for now, this is just a small pilot, but it will continue to evaluate whether it's working to see if it should be tweaked or expanded.

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