By Adaora Ikenze
The stark reality in today’s world is that we spend most of our time online, moreso in this post-covid era. We go online to connect socially, to conduct business, we build communities of interests and passions, and we love the entertainment many platforms provide.
Today, with only the touch of a button, everyone connected to the internet can reach thousands of people all over the world.
There was a time when if you wanted to share some news with a friend you had to meet them in person, call them on the phone or write a letter. And then the internet, social media and Facebook changed all that.
As with many countries around the world, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has enjoyed the impact of digital transformation in almost every area of our lives.
While this significant stride in innovation is positive in many ways, it has made the digital space vulnerable as by empowering people to connect with each other, people are equally empowered to share things like false news, rumours, and misinformation that can cause a lot of harm.
This isn’t a problem just in Nigeria, but it matters a lot here. In an age of instant internet access and social media platforms, this could have devastating consequences in the real world. The million Naira question now is, how do you open up the dialogue surrounding false news?
In recent years, Facebook has come under scrutiny for not doing enough to stop the spread of misinformation on its platforms. But the truth is Facebook undertakes extensive efforts to stop harmful content — while protecting free expression.
Let’s start by going over what we don’t do. We don’t take something down just because someone says it isn’t true. It wouldn’t be appropriate for a tech company based in the United States to say what is true or what is false — that would be an exercise of too much power. Not only that but a policy that tried to do this would be impossible to enforce accurately.
Of course, we still have a responsibility to keep people safe on the platform. And so, along with our abiding commitment to free expression, we take extensive measures to stop the spread of harmful content, including misinformation.
It’s tempting to imagine that the problem of misinformation could be solved with a simple solution but that’s not true at all. Our task isn’t just to remove the obviously bad things but it’s to write rules that can be fairly enforced across the board. People will always disagree as to what should stay up and what should come down, and we need to make sure we get it right.
That’s why our approach has three main pillars, which we call: Remove, Reduce and Inform.
Let’s take these one at a time, starting with: Remove. Even though we don’t have a policy that explicitly states that everything on Facebook must be true, we do have policies in place to address some of the most harmful types of false information and we will remove this content as soon as we become aware of it.
This includes misinformation that is intended to suppress voting during elections and false information that could lead to imminent harm if it were to be believed – such as claims Covid-19 is a hoax.
To date during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have removed over 20 million pieces of false COVID-19 and vaccine content globally for violating these policies. If misinformation violates any of our other rules — what we call our Community Standards and Ad Policies — like our policies on hate speech or bullying and harassment, then we will also remove it.
The second pillar of our approach is: Reduce. If a piece of content doesn’t break a rule but is still harmful — like clickbait, false news, or other types of misinformation — we reduce its distribution, so fewer people see it.
Of course, getting this right is an immense challenge. That’s why we’ve built a global network of more than 80 independent fact-checkers, who review and debunk content in more than 60 languages including Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo languages and 3PFC partners (Africa Check, AFP and Dubawa) in Nigeria.
When they rate something as false, we reduce its distribution so fewer people see it and add a warning label with more information for anyone who sees it.
Pages and Groups that repeatedly share false information that has been debunked will also see their distribution reduced and their ability to advertise and monetize reduced.
Finally, the third pillar of our efforts is to inform. We do this by providing labels and notifications for people that come into contact with posts that have been debunked or who try to share them, as well as directing people to reliable information from trusted experts in places like our COVID-19 Information Center or Climate Science Information Center.
Finally, we’re working to help people improve their own media literacy, so they’re empowered to decide for themselves what to read, trust and share. This is particularly important in places where we have large populations coming online quickly.
To that end, over the past month, we’ve been promoting the #NoFalseNewsZone campaign in Nigeria, designed to help people learn how to identify false news, and the actions they can take to minimize its spread.
We ask people to do their part by: reading the whole message (not just the headline) and taking some time to research the story. In the last two years, we launched many media literacy campaigns related to misinformation providing Nigerians with tips on how to spot false news and encouraging them to share facts, not fiction.
We know from experience that people on Facebook don’t want to see misinformation and false news, so we have a big incentive to remove it. While we are making good progress, we know we have more work to do, but we can’t do it alone.
By working with our community, and encouraging them to not post and reshare misinformation, we’ll continue to make progress against this problem, together.