This Is How Much Fact-Checking Is Worth to Facebook

More than nothing, but not much more

Reuters / Elijah Nouvelage

Updated at 12:30 p.m. ET on February 2, 2019

Snopes has pulled out of its fact-checking partnership with Facebook. The storied myth-debunking site was one of dozens of groups the social network enlisted to help combat misinformation after the 2016 election. According to Snopes, Facebook paid it $100,000 in 2017 for this work.

Snopes is not the only fact-checking group that has not yet reupped for this year either. Lauren Easton, a spokesperson for the Associated Press, confirmed to The Atlantic that the “AP is not currently doing fact-checking work for Facebook.” However, she said, “AP is in talks with Facebook, and we fully expect to be doing fact-check work for Facebook in 2019.”

As of Friday afternoon, Facebook included 51 fact-checking affiliates (including Snopes) in what was an outdated list on its website. Many are AFP affiliates, however, which reduces the number of unique organizations working with Facebook. A Facebook spokesperson told me there are now 34 partners in the program.

The note the Snopes team posted announcing the end of the partnership was circumspect about why the organization had pulled out, explicitly leaving open the possibility of working with Facebook again: “At this time we are 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,” the note says. “To be clear, we have not ruled out working with Facebook or any other platforms in the future.”

Facebook struck a conciliatory tone about Snopes leaving the fold. “We value the work that Snopes has done, and respect their decision as an independent business,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to me. “Fighting misinformation takes a multi-pronged approach from across the industry. We are committed to fighting this through many tactics, and the work that third-party fact-checkers do is a valued and important piece of this effort.”

Step back from the immediate news, though, and consider the broader question. What is fact-checking actually worth to Facebook?

Poynter has reported that other organizations received $100,000, as Snopes did. A more in-depth report from Columbia Journalism Review found that some organizations turned down the money.

The amount that Facebook has paid out has increased, but has also become more variable. Fact-checkers get paid for each fact-check, but only up to a certain amount a month. The amount of money that’s flowing to all of Facebook’s 34 fact-checkers probably remains in the single-digit millions.

For perspective, Facebook generated $16.9 billion in revenue just last quarter. That same quarter, the company’s average revenue per user reached $7.37, so the money coming in from a million or two users over the course of just three months would be enough to cover the global fact-checking costs for the year.

Perhaps fact-checking organizations such as Snopes, the AP, and others have parted ways with Facebook for a variety of reasons, but it’s not hard to imagine that paying them substantially more might keep a larger number in the fold and engaged in making a dent in the problem of misinformation on Facebook.

Which is to say: Facebook is willing to spend more than nothing on fact-checking, but not much more than nothing.