Facebook’s sponsorship of a Netsafe campaign to educate New Zealanders on how to spot fake news is ironic given the platform’s role as the world’s leading spreader of misinformation, technology and media experts say.
The ‘Demystifying fake news’ campaign, launched in August, aims to help people figure out what’s real and what’s fake and uses a quiz to help identify them.
While Netsafe wouldn’t disclose how much Facebook had paid for the sponsorship, chief executive Martin Cocker said it amounted to two thirds of the cost.
Technology commentator Paul Brislen thought the campaign itself was a great idea by Netsafe, but said Facebook needed to do more.
* Influencers turned conspiracy theorists: Risk to brands exposed
* Those who shared Covid-19 rumour could be liable to the Harmful Digital Communications Act, Netsafe says
* Coronavirus: How to identify dangerous, fake Covid-19 news on social media
“I am very concerned that Facebook thinks this is all it needs to do whereas if Facebook was actually to address the issue and make dramatic changes it would have a positive impact on everyone.
“They are the home of all this misinformation and paying somebody else to warn people about it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough to address the issue itself.”
Brislen had no concerns about Netsafe accepting Facebook’s sponsorship money however, likening it to “taking money from the devil to warn people about the devil”.
“Netsafe are there to educate around these kinds of issues, and they’d be doing that with or without Facebook.”
Covid-19 highlighted how damaging fake news and misinformation can be but also how quickly it can spread.
Rumours were shared on social media when Covid-19 reemerged in the New Zealand community about how a young girl contracted the virus, which turned out to be false.
In terms of Covid-19 misinformation Facebook says it will remove anything that could contribute to imminent physical harm including false claims about cures, treatments, the availability of essential services or the location and severity of the outbreak.
The platform was focusing on claims where if someone relies on the information, it makes them more likely to get sick or not get treatment.
But just this week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the platform won’t remove anti-vaccine posts despite Covid-19 concerns.
In recent months large international brands such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, Verizon and Starbucks have boycotted spending their advertising dollar with Facebook over accusations the tech company hasn’t done enough to curb hate-speech and disinformation.
Stuff has also hit pause on all Facebook activity as it reassesses its relationship with the media giant.
Facebook says it has been trying to clamp down on the spread of fake news and misinformation and supporting Netsafe’s campaign is part of that.
“We know that it can be challenging sometimes to identify misinformation on social media, especially when linked to Covid-19 and electoral processes, which is why this campaign is timely for New Zealanders,” Mia Garlick, Director of Public Policy, Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement.
Facebook had developed a Misinformation Policy as well as tips to spot fake news on its site.
Garlick said connecting people to accurate information was important to Facebook and the campaign provided people with skills to make informed decisions on what to read, trust and share.
Dr Andrew Chen, editor of Shouting Zeros and Ones, a book about digital technology, ethics, and public policy in New Zealand, said Facebook wanted to do something about these issues as they’re engaged with things like the Christchurch Call.
After the March 15 mosque shooting, where 51 people were killed and 50 injured, was livestreamed for 17 minutes and viewed roughly 4000 times on Facebook before being removed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron brought together Heads of State and Government and leaders from the tech sector to create the Christchurch Call.
The Christchurch Call is a commitment by Governments and tech companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online and is supported by Facebook.
Chen said while this was good, initiatives around educating the public, such as Netsafe’s campaign, only went so far.
“I am a little bit concerned they are taking Facebook’s money to run a campaign like this when Facebook is where a lot of the misinformation and fake news is shared itself.
“Redesigning the structures that allow these issues to happen in the first place is also very important, I don’t think [the campaign] absolves them from the responsibility to find better ways to moderate the flow of misinformation and fake news on their platform.”
Richard Pamatatau, communication studies lecturer at Auckland University of Technology, thought the campaign was clever and a great way to engage the public in identifying fake news.
He saw Facebook’s involvement as an attempt to clean up some of the havoc caused as a result of the misinformation shared on its platform.
“There’s definitely an irony there that one of the biggest sites of fake news is supporting a campaign to reduce fake news.
“But, the broader issue is Facebook needs to look at how it’s being used to spread fake news.”
Martin Cocker, Netsafe chief executive, said the fact so much misinformation gets shared on Facebook is exactly the reason the platform should support initiatives like this.
Netsafe, New Zealand’s independent, non-profit online safety organisation, found 93 per cent of people had heard of the term fake news, 48 per cent were concerned about mistakenly spreading it and 14 per cent mention having seen misleading stories related to Covid-19.
Netsafe research found three-quarters of the population were confident in their ability to identify fake news, but many were worried family members, like their children or parents, wouldn’’t be able to or would mistakenly share fake news.
Netsafe had been looking to do something around misinformation as Covid-19 identified the issues it presented and Cocker said Facebook was always keen to support them.
“On the one hand people will criticise Facebook for not doing enough about misinformation and on the other hand they’ll criticise them for supporting us for running a campaign on misinformation
“I don’t think it’s inappropriate for Facebook to support us.”
— to www.stuff.co.nz