The firm’s official verification of six pages analysed by HuffPost UK shows the extent of the problem facing the company, as it battles accusations that false news on its network contributed to Donald Trump’s stunning US election victory.
Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg conceded at the weekend that he was keen to get rid of “hoaxes”, but that lots of content “often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted” and that “more than 99% of what people see is authentic.”
And HuffPost UK’s analysis of the verified pages, which have a total ‘Like’ following of around 14.5 million users, echoes this problem. Inaccurate content presented as news and shared by these pages was found to be at best misleading but in some cases entirely false.
“Pages must not contain false, misleading, fraudulent, or deceptive claims or content.”
Yet all six pages which shared such content carried a blue verified tick badge awarded by Facebook to “let people know that they’re authentic.”
Six examples of false or misleading ‘news’ distributed by verified Facebook pages:
1. ‘Denzel Washington Backs Trump In The Most Epic Way Possible’
This was debunked by the Washington Post as being completely false, but not before achieving thousands of shares on the verified ‘American News’ page, below.
The ‘American News’ post was deleted hours after HuffPost UK alerted Facebook to its existence.
Likes and shares on this post before it was deleted: 92,625
2. ‘Obama just warned Trump: Don’t attack my wife or there will be hell to pay’
President Obama did not directly address Trump over his reference to the First Lady during campaigning, instead the president’s spokesperson told reporters: “I can’t think of a bolder way for Donald Trump to lose even more standing than he already has than by engaging the first lady of the United States.”
Obama did not say “Don’t attack my wife” and he did not threaten Trump.
Likes and shares on this post: 17,400
3. ‘YES! Rosie O’Donnell Confirms She’s Moving From America And NEVER COMING BACK’
O’Donnell in fact wrote during a furious Twitter tirade earlier this year: “LISTEN UP WASTED TRUMPERS - I AM NEVER LEAVING THE USA”.
O’Donnell didn’t confirm she would leave America after Trump’s win.
Likes and shares on this post: 31,000
4. ‘JUST IN: Gowdy Announces Full On Revival Of Hillary Probe Now Elections Are Done, It’s Over For Her’
Published on November 11, this piece said former prosecutor and congressman Trey Gowdy ‘just.. announced’ a probe into Hillary Clinton following the election - only he didn’t.
Instead, in a statement issued on Nov 7, Gowdy said: “There is sufficient evidence, both direct and circumstantial, upon which a jury could conclude an intent to violate the law.”
Hardly a ‘full on revival’.
Likes and shares on this post: 15,500
5. ‘Hillary Canceled Her Last Public Event Because The Crowd Yelled “Lock Her Up”’
This piece relied upon an unverified witness statement to report that Hillary Clinton refused to leave her car at an event in Florida on October 30. Despite photographs showing her walking to greet the crowd.
Likes and shares on this post: 36,800
6. ‘Reince Priebus Just Called Osama Bin Laden Obama 3 Times In 1 Interview’
No, this didn’t ‘just’ happen, the incoming White House chief of staff made the comments six years ago.
Likes and shares on this post: 17,000
Experts have now questioned how Facebook can more effectively verify ‘authenticity’ of the content on its platform.
Professor Charlie Beckett of the London School of Economics told HuffPost UK that Facebook may have to “remove the verified tick for everyone.”
“There is a huge management problem with how Facebook polices fake news.
“Facebook is a social network not a news network. You could possibly bring more people in to spot false news but ultimately there needs to be an algorithm because it’s such a huge task.
“And while I fear that Facebook might overreact and shut things down, they’re unlikely to do that as they’ll lose money.”
Beckett continued: “So how do you decide what is the correct balance for people? After all, it is the users who are clicking on this stuff. You can’t say to them: ‘have some of this instead’.
“One solution might be to remove the verified tick for everyone.”
Writer and professor Clay Shirky, who studies social networks, told the Guardian it was impossible for Facebook to “start preventing people from sharing what they want to share. That’s the core idea of the site.”
Yet the verified tick badge is one way Facebook has attempted to reassure its users about the content they receive from pages.
Around 35% of all media pages are thought to be verified by Facebook, according to analytics firm Socialbakers.
Five of the six pages analysed by HuffPost UK identified themselves as Media/News Organisations in some way.
By awarding the pages a verified badge, it is this identity which Facebook has vouched as ‘authentic’.
Explaining its verified badge system, Facebook states on its website: “If you see a blue badge on a Page or profile, it means that Facebook confirmed that this is the authentic Page or profile for this public figure, media company or brand.”
It explained a grey badge denotes an authentic page for a business or organisation.
‘Authentic’ is defined as ‘based on facts; accurate or reliable,’ by the Oxford English Dictionary.
In searching the network for false news HuffPost UK looked for information presented in a news-style, but that omitted crucial details, or did not come from a reputable source.
In addition, these examples carried a misleading headline, or were otherwise presented in a misleading way on Facebook.
HuffPost UK sent all its findings to Facebook on Tuesday afternoon. The company responded on Wednesday morning to say it was still looking into the examples raised.
Facebook did not offer comment on its verified badge policy.
It comes as both Facebook and Google announced plans on Monday to remove fake news from their advertising networks.
This will affect advertising within articles online, but is unlikely to impact upon so-called sponsored posts on Facebook itself.
And this is far from the first time Facebook has faced problems in managing the content on its network.
Until earlier this year Facebook employed human editors to decide which news was promoted as ‘trending’ on the platform.
But the Washington Post found that just days after letting the staff go in a bid to answer fears over political bias, Facebook’s prominent trending feature promoted fake news.
On Wednesday Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai issued the strongest words yet from a Silicon Valley executive on the issue of fake news.
He told the BBC: “There should be no situation in which fake news gets distributed, so we are all for doing better here.
“I don’t think we should debate it as much as work hard to make sure we drive news towards more trusted sources, have more fact-checking, and make our algorithms better.”