Fake news is a problem and Facebook knows it. In the past few years, the company has ramped up its efforts to combat misinformation, including launching its (criticised) fact-checking program. But the tech giant may be getting a little too trigger-happy on calling out fake news.
An Instagram post made on Wednesday night by an Australian publisher was labelled as containing false information about COVID-19, as spotted by Reddit user u/taintedsnatch.
According to the company, the post contained information that had been found to be incorrect in no less than 3 fact-checks by the site’s fact-checking partners.
The only problem? It was a satirical post by The Betoota Advocate that was found to be fake.
What did The Betoota Advocate get fact-checked for?
The Betoota Advocate is one of Australia’s most popular publications on social media. Their articles are consistently among the top links posted by Australian Facebook pages.
But they are undeniably satirical. And the post that was fact-checked is no exception. It’s a screenshot of their article ‘Adelaide Winemakers Report Thousands Of Spoiled Vats After Sharp Increase In Sour Grapes.’
“It’s because they fear thousands of this year’s produce will have to be poured down the drain due to a sharp spike in sour grapes being recorded across Adelaide and the surrounds,” the article reads.
According to Instagram’s prompt, the post “repeats information about COVID-19 that independent fact-checkers say is false.” Facebook says it has 45 third-party fact-checking partners who review and label misinformation. Earlier this year, there were 7 people employed as fact-checkers by the company’s partners in Australia.
Once an article is found to have false information, the company says it makes the post harder to find by filtering it from Explore and Hashtags, and making it less visible in the newsfeed.
Why did the Betoota Advocate post get fact-checked?
In 2019, it was reported that Facebook planned to exempt satire from its fact-checking program. And most of The Betoota Advocate’s posts have not been marked as containing false information, despite all being satire. So, something about this post seems to be different.
The company lists the post as containing information from 3 fact checks about conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was made in a Chinese lab.
None of these directly relate to the Betoota Advocate’s post, but they do provide a hint of what may have happened.
The post’s caption reads:
South Australian wine regions are reportedly in a panic today, and it isn’t necessarily because the Prime Minister has failed to hose down growing hostilities with our largest export market because it’s much easier, from a marketing viewpoint, to blame the growing Melbourne aged care deaths on China for inventing this virus, than it is to admit his government is struggle to control it.
One part of the text (emphasis added by Gizmodo) relates to these fact checks. What this suggest is that Facebook’s own algorithms have flagged this post — possibly for just containing the words ‘China’, ‘inventing’ and ‘virus’ — as misinformation.
Facebook is a tech company, and they’re using tech to solve their problems. And with 17 million users in Australia alone, there’s no way that 7 fact-checkers can sort through all the content. But what this seems to show is that technological solutions aren’t perfect.
Both The Betoota Advocate and Facebook have been contacted for comment.