Snopes says nope to Facebook’s money and leaves fact-checking program

Snopes will no longer partner with Facebook as part of the social network’s fact-checking initiative. Facebook began the effort at the end of 2016 — after the US presidential election and as Russia’s social media meddling came into focus — in the hopes of battling back misinformation on the platform. Using data from its fact-checking partners, Facebook would try to inform users about questionable or false “news” stories shared by their friends. Snopes was joined by ABC News, The Associated Press, FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact as fact-checkers.

But Snopes says it is now “evaluating the ramifications and costs of providing third-party fact-checking services, and we want to determine with certainty that our efforts to aid any particular platform are a net positive for our online community, publication, and staff.”

Several Snopes employees told Poynter that the Facebook partnership ultimately took up too much time for their small staff and that they’d be better served creating fact-checking tools that could benefit the web at large instead of just one platform. Vinny Green, Snopes’ VP of operations, seems to agree with that:

“It doesn’t seem like we’re striving to make third-party fact checking more practical for publishers — it seems like we’re striving to make it easier for Facebook. At some point, we need to put our foot down and say, ‘No. You need to build an API,’ The work that fact-checkers are doing doesn’t need to be just for Facebook — we can build things for fact-checkers that benefit the whole web, and that can also help Facebook.”

The Facebook program has reportedly been a contentious issue on Snopes’ Slack channel for several months. The organization had actually stopped debunking posts at the end of last year when its contract with Facebook expired, but efforts to negotiate a renewal have been unsuccessful. The decision means walking away from a significant amount of money: the organization received $100,000 in 2017 for participating in Facebook’s fact-checking project; a figure for this year isn’t yet available on the company’s disclosures page.

Columbia Journalism Review evaluated Facebook’s fact-check program in April of last year. “Through an online dashboard accessible only to partners, Facebook curates a list of these stories,” Mike Ananny wrote. “The news organizations then independently choose stories to debunk, adding their fact-checks. Facebook uses these to change how it algorithmically surfaces stories for its users.” That report went on to mention “a general unease among partners about how opaque and unaccountable much of the arrangement is—both within the partnership and to outsiders.” CJR said that some partners viewed the dashboard “as a place of clashing priorities, mistrust, and suspicion.” Poynter, however, has found that several of Facebook’s partners seem happy with the arrangement — but they’d still prefer more transparency around the process.

“We value the work that Snopes has done, and respect their decision as an independent business,” Facebook told Poynter in a statement. “The work that third-party fact-checkers do is a valued and important piece of this effort. We have strong relationships with 34 fact-checking partners around the world who fact-check content in 16 languages, and we plan to expand the program this year by adding new partners and languages.”

In its letter, Snopes acknowledged that “a change like this means that we have less money to invest in our publication — and we will need to adapt to make up for it.” But the organization remains focused on preparing for the 2020 elections and says it will “continue to be pioneers in a challenging digital media landscape.”

Correction 4:59PM ET February 1st: The article has been updated to reflect that Snopes is a for-profit organization.