Facebook started out as a tool for staying in touch with friends, but has increasingly also turned into the primary channel through which people access news. This is exactly why the global prevalence of false news articles on the social media platform has garnered the wrath of activists everywhere.

After three years of promising to do so, Facebook heeded the concerns earlier this year, and launched a fake-news checking service where users could directly report stories which they suspected to contain false claims.

Early in October, Facebook announced that this service would now also be available to South African users, shortly after also launching in Kenya a short while before. In order to combat and curb the spread of fake news, Facebook partners with reputable third-party fact checkers in each of the countries where fake news can be reported. Facebook has announced that its third-party partner in South Africa would be the revered independent fact-checking organisation, Africa Check.

How it works

If you come across news articles that seem suspect while scrolling through your news feed, you can report your suspicions to Facebook by clicking on the three dots in the top right-hand corner of the post. You will be presented by a list of options. Select “Report post”, and indicate that you suspect that it is fake news by selecting the option labelled, “false news”.

Once posts have been flagged, they are sent to the relevant third-party organisations to review. The organisation – Africa Check, in this case – will review articles and classify them as either “true”, “false”, or as a “mixture”. Satire, opinion pieces and private content is not eligible to be flagged as fake news, and if you report any of these types of articles, a reviewer will indicate it in their review.

Fake news is not removed from Facebook altogether

In an effort to strike a balance between encouraging freedom of expression and not promoting falsehoods on the site, Facebook will not remove posts that have been flagged as fake news from the platform entirely. Instead, the distribution of the content will be reduced, and when it does show up on someone’s timeline, it will be accompanied by related information, identified by fact checkers, that dispel the false primary claims in the flagged article.

Users who attempt to share an article that has been flagged as false news will receive a message warning them that the article has been flagged, and anyone that has shared the article prior to it being confirmed as false will also receive a message notifying them of inaccuracies.

Facebook pages that share articles that are factually incorrect will be penalised, although a single “strike” that is corrected after receiving notification of falsehoods in the article will regain access to their audience. Should a Facebook page repeatedly be found to have shared fake news, it will be punished by restricting the access it has to a large audience on the platform.

In a blog post about the fake-news reporting functionality that was published earlier this year, Facebook explains how repeat offenders will be throttled.

“If a Facebook Page or website repeatedly shares misinformation, we’ll reduce the overall distribution of the Page or website, not just individual false articles. We’ll also cut off their ability to make money or advertise on our services” Facebook said.

What constitutes fake news?

Fake news or hoax news can be defined as propaganda or false information that is published under the guise of being authentic news. In other words, fake news pretends to be something it is not, with the express purpose of misleading readers, listeners or viewers. As satire and opinion pieces don’t profess to be serious news, these are disregarded in this classification.

Third-party fact-checkers can also review posts that are not news articles, but are misleading, such as posts about false crime rumours, supposed health cures and pyramid schemes.

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