Facebook should take a step to stop fake news in Turkey, before the election
by Burak Avşar
The concept of “fake news” which became an issue during the US Elections held in 2016 and resulted in Trump being president is now a global problem, and it is essential to verify produced contents. However, can verification alone stop the problem of fake news? No, at least not yet. I will explain the reason in this article.
Users of social media show low resistance to fake news
According to a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on Twitter, false information spreads six times faster than correct information. The results of the research conducted by Ipsos, a research and consulting firm, for BuzzFeed in 2016 in the US show that 83 percent of Americans using Facebook as a news source have rather low resistance against fake news.
Even though the issue of fake news emerged from the US, fake news is a social problem in many areas around world. In recent weeks, Open Society Institute published their 2018 Media Literacy Index. According to the Index being second last among 35 countries, Turkey is very defenseless against fake news.
Platforms taking precautions, yet that is not enough
The role of social media platforms in spreading fake news initiate many discussions. And, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been trying to find a solution to fake news.
Particularly Facebook is working to detect fake news on Facebook more easily through the program developed in partnership with third-party fact-checking sites. Contents marked as fake by verification organizations in US, Italy, France, Germany, and Netherlands are presented to Facebook users with a warning message.
With the addition of Indonesia, Mexico, Philippines, India, and Colombia, number of countries Facebook implements the program became 10. Then, what role does Facebook play in spreading fake news in Turkey? I would like to remind that there isn’t any qualified research on this topic and share some data from our work on teyit.org in the last 1.5 years.
49 percent of fake news is on Facebook
teyit.org published more than 460 analyses since its birthday in the last quarter of 2016. Number of analyses found to be fake is 367. 49 percent of these analyses is directly linked to posts on Facebook. Thus, one of two analyses found to be “false” by teyit.org has been spread from Facebook.
When we include posts by news sites and media outlets shared on their corporate accounts, and posts on Facebook yet could not be discovered because they didn’t go viral, this ratio becomes higher that 70 per cent. We can see that allegations regarding Syrian refugees, images claimed to be from Arakan and Afrin, which can create social and political crises, reached too many people through Facebook.
Verification alone is not enough
Facebook is not conducting a program for verification in Turkey, and Facebook algorithm which changed last January seems to be working especially against verification organizations. According to a research published on NiemanLab on March 30th, Facebook’s algorithm change did not affect the total reach of partisan sites. This means that, political news sites and pages renowned for fake contents can easily communicate fake news to large audience through Facebook.
When we look at the data from 367 analyses categorized under false title on teyit.org, we see that verification alone is not enough. Comparing the analyses published by verification organizations and total reach to the claims being discussed in these analyses, we can say that verification alone cannot solve the fake news problem, and that social media platforms should work closely with verification organizations.
When we compare interaction rates in the period between the last quarter of 2016 and January 29th, 2018, on which Facebook’s algorithm change took place, and the rates in the period after the algorithm change, we see that teyit.org’s interaction on Facebook is decreased by 22.1 per cent.
Reach to verified content is considerably low compared to fake news
A post shared on Anlamlı Sözler’s (Meaningful Words) Facebook page on December 6th claims that a person having a heart attack can be saved by pricking the person’s finger. There is an analysis we published on teyit.org on December 8th regarding the said claim. The interaction counts on both pages, Anlamlı Sözler and teyit.org, paint a sad picture.
As you can see above, number of shares on a page publishing false content on an issue as critical as a heart attack is 13 thousand, while the analysis we published on teyit.org is shared by only 109 users. This example shows an imbalance which can affects thousands of lives.
Another example claimed that a Muslim Uyghur Turk was tortured by Chinese authorities. The video was liked 3,300 times, shared more than 27 thousand times, and watched 804 thousand times. The analysis of teyit.org was liked 189 times, shared 57 times, and reached an interaction count of 253 in total.
The data we have show that Facebook facilitates spreading of fake news and contributes nothing to spread correct information.
Facebook can change its bad reputation on spreading fake news
Considering the period between the date teyit.org was established and April 21st, 2018, we can see that 21 per cent of messages sent to teyit.org by Internet users was from Facebook. This ratio may be seen as low; however, we can understand its meaning when we look at the situation from various aspects.
Highest number of contents reported to teyit.org fall under “Politics” category, and Twitter which is a more political medium than Facebook, is the most commonly used platform to report suspicious contents to teyit.org. Also, number of followers of teyit.org’s accounts, Facebook being 40 thousand and Twitter being 240 thousand is an important factor in this ratio. Even though the number of followers on Facebook is six times higher than number of Twitter followers, Facebook has a 21 per cent share in all messages sent to teyit.org.
The way to increase this ratio and change Facebook’s bad reputation on fake news in Turkey is quite obvious. Facebook’s determining teyit.org as its third-party fact-checking organization may facilitate users sending suspicious contents to teyit.org encountered on Facebook, while allows us to communicate our work on verification to a larger audience, thus increasing the above given ratio. This way Facebook can become a medium to prevent fake news to be spread, rather than an important factor in spreading fake news.
Turkey has the ninth highest number of users on Facebook
Considering all this, verification organizations in Turkey who have signed the Code of Principles published by International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and Turkey should be included in the program conducted by Facebook in 10 countries.
Comparing the number of Facebook users in countries included in Facebook’s program and number of users in Turkey, we can clearly see that Turkey has more monthly users on Facebook than Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, and Colombia. With 52 million users, Turkey is the ninth country in the world. Populations of first six countries in the list are more than 100 million.
We’ve seen how fake news on Facebook affected the elections in the US. Turkey will be holding an early selection on June 24th. The data given above verifies that Facebook plays an important role in spreading fake news in Turkey. Therefore, Facebook managers should not waste time to include Turkey in the program. Otherwise, Facebook might turn to a propaganda tool which can affect elections, and this might lead many people on the search for correct information to give up Facebook.
What is a third-party fact-checking program?
During the US elections held in late 2016 Facebook became a target for criticism. After that Facebook developed a button for users to report suspicious contents to Facebook. Reports coming through this button are shared with verification organizations signing IFCN and verification regarding the content is requested from these organizations.
If the verification teams determine that content sent through reports this news is marked as Disputed, and users are directed to a link explaining why the news is disputed. Also, Facebook shows in timeline that the content is marked as fake by verification organizations.
Burak Avşar is engagement editor of verification platform teyit.org.
Translation: Emek Akman