Facebook is introducing third-party data verification in India, with a pilot program starting in the state of Karnataka. Facebook says that the fact-checking program is aimed at fighting "the spread of false news", and the company has partnered with the independent journalism initiative BOOM, which is certified by the International Fact-Checking Network.
According to The Indian Express, Facebook says that India has 201 million active Facebook users as of 2017, falling just behind the United States. Facebook has previously admitted spreading misinformation and false news during the 2016 US presidential election. With India in a general election in 2019, Facebook seems to be timing this release to prevent that misinformation from influencing political outcomes. Facebook also has data verification programs in countries such as the Philippines, France, Indonesia and Italy. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously talked about his deep concerns about how Facebook could affect democracy.
Starting today, BOOM will review the marked English stories and rank their accuracy among six grades, including "false", "mixed", "true" and "unqualified". When a data verifier signals a news as false, Facebook will show it lower in the News Feed. Facebook will also notify the people and administrators of the page if they try to share a false story, or if they have shared one in the past that has been determined to be false.
Pages and domains that continually share news releases that are considered fake will have a reduced distribution and will eliminate their ability to monetize and advertise. Facebook states that once a story is marked as false, the social network can reduce the distribution of content by 80 percent. Facebook says that if fact verifiers write articles that explain why a story is false, it will be displayed in the Related Articles under that story in the News Feed. "We are starting small and we know it is important to learn from this test and listen to our community as we continue to update ways for people to understand what could be false news in their News Feed," the company said in a blog post.
Although Facebook's initiative to discredit fake news in India is welcome, misinformation and viral tricks are also rampant in WhatsApp, the messaging application that Facebook has. Exceeding the 200 million active users in February 2017, WhatsApp is as popular as Facebook in India, although the application has been testing alerts to prevent users from forwarding spam messages.