This week, Facebook’s top two executives have touted the company’s effort to fight fake news. But according to Facebook engagement data, sketchy sources and fake stories are doing quite well on the platform.
Analytics from tracking firm NewsWhip, tweeted out by John Herrman at The New York Times, and confirmed to Quartz by NewsWhip, show that the fourth most-engaged-with story on Facebook from the first week of September 2018 is a story from America’s Last Line of Defense, which fact-checking website Snopes (which Facebook works with) has called a “junk news network.” The piece claims that Michael Jordan has resigned from Nike’s board, “taking Air Jordans with him.” It is, of course, false. (For one thing, Jordan isn’t even on Nike’s board.) The site, Snopes notes, “engages in political trolling under the guise of proffering ‘satire.'” If you click on the first link in the article, it takes you to a Google Translate box that says: “You can stop. None of this is true. Click an ad and then move on with your day.”
The first story on the list comes from the “Patriotic Express,” a hyper-partisan website devoted seemingly only to attacking former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick with a sprinkling of gun rights posts. Several come from LADBible, a viral content empire, known more for its raunchy and sexist origins than journalistic credibility. According to NewsWhip, LADBible was the most popular publisher on Facebook in August. (Fox News came in second, and the conservative Daily Wire came in before The Washington Post, contradicting Republican politicians’ assertions of conservative bias on the platform.)
“We’ve seen some questionable, low-quality content going ultra-viral over the past few months,” writes Gabriele Boland in NewsWhip’s August report, referencing, for example, the website FeedyTV, which was the fourth most popular publisher in July, and was 24th in August. In a recent NewsWhip report on food content, based on Facebook and Pinterest engagement, the second-most popular story from May to July was also fake, claiming Burger King used horse meat in its products, a hoax that routinely pops up, distorting an old news story.
Facebook says that if a post gets flagged by external fact-checkers as false, the content is demoted dramatically. Snopes did note the Michael Jordan story was false, although it’s not clear if it did only on its own site, and not on Facebook. Facebook was not immediately available for comment.
That viral news publishers and fabrication purveyors are growing is remarkable also considering that in January, Facebook said it would prioritize posts from trusted news sources in its News Feed .