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Is Facebook winning the fake news war?

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By BBC LIFESTYLE
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For the people contracted by Facebook to clamp down on fake news and misinformation, doubt hangs over them every day. Is it working?

“Are we changing minds?” wondered one fact-checker, based in Latin America, speaking to the BBC.

“Is it having an impact? Is our work being read? I don’t think it is hard to keep track of this. But it’s not a priority for Facebook.

“We want to understand better what we are doing, but we aren’t able to.”

More than two years on from its inception, and on International Fact-Checking Day, multiple sources within agencies working on Facebook’s global fact-checking initiative have told the BBC they feel underutilised, uninformed and often ineffective.

One editor described how their group would stop working when it neared its payment cap – a maximum number of fact-checks in a single month for which Facebook is willing to pay.

Others told how they felt Facebook was not listening to their feedback on how to improve the tool it provides to sift through content flagged as “fake news”.

“I think we view the partnership as important,” one editor said.

“But there’s only so much that can be done without input from both sides.”

As the US prepares to hurl itself into another gruelling presidential campaign, experts feel Facebook remains ill-equipped to fend off fake news.

Despite this, Facebook said it was pleased with progress made so far – pointing to external research that suggested the amount of fake news shared on its platform was decreasing.

Facebook requires its fact-checkers to sign non-disclosure agreements that prevent them talking publicly about some aspects of their work.

In order to not identify the source of information, the BBC has chosen to make its sources anonymous and avoid using certain specific numbers that may be unique to individual contracts.

Facebook launched its fact-checking programme in December 2016, just over a month after the election of Donald Trump as US president.

It was a victory some felt was helped by misinformation spread on social media, chiefly Facebook.

At the time, founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said such a notion was “crazy” – though he later told a congressional committee that he regretted using the term.

Facebook now has 43 fact-checking organisations working with them across the world, covering 24 different languages.

The groups use a tool built by Facebook to sift through content that has been flagged as potentially false or misleading.

The flagging is done either by Facebook’s algorithm or by human users reporting articles they believe may be inaccurate.

The fact-checkers will then research whatever claims are made, eventually producing their own “explanatory article”.

If content is deemed misleading or outright false, users who posted it are meant to receive a notification, and the post is shown less prominently as a result.

For those trying to post the material after it has been checked, a pop-up message advises them about the fact-checkers’ concerns.

For each explanatory article, Facebook pays a fixed fee, which, in the US, is understood to be around $800 (£600), according to contracts described to the BBC.

Fact-checkers in the developing world appear to be paid around a quarter of that amount.

What has not been previously reported, however, is that at the beginning of 2019, Facebook put in place a payment cap: a monthly limit of explanatory articles after which fact-checking agencies would not be paid for their work.

Typically, the limit is 40 articles per month per agency – even if the group works across several countries.

It’s a fraction of the total job at hand – a screenshot of Facebook’s tool, taken last week by a fact-checker in one Latin American country, showed 491 articles in the queue waiting to be checked.

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Facebook has confirmed what it called an “incentive-based structure” for payment, one which increased during busy times, such as an election.

The company said the limit was created in line with the capabilities of the fact-checking firms, and that the limits were rarely exceeded.

However, some groups told the BBC they would “never have a problem” reaching the limit.

One editor said their staff would simply stop submitting their reviews to Facebook’s system once the cap was nearing, so as not to be fact-checking for free.

“We’re still working on stuff, but we’ll just hold it until next month,” they said.

Earlier this year, US-based fact-checking agency Snopes said it was ending its work with Facebook.

“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,” Snopes said in a statement at the time.

Another major partner, the Associated Press, told the BBC it was still negotiating its new contract with Facebook. However, the AP does not appear to have done any fact-checking directly on Facebook since the end of 2018.

Snopes’ statement echoed the concerns of those who were still part of the programme.

“We don’t know how many people have been reached,” one editor said.

“I feel we are missing very important information about who is publishing fake news inside of Facebook consistently.”

A Facebook spokeswoman told the BBC the firm was working on increasing the quality of its fact-checking tools – and being more open about data.

“We know that there’s always room for us to improve,” the company said.

“So we’ll continue to have conversations with partners about how we can be more effective and transparent about our efforts.”

The firm said it has recently started sending quarterly reports to agencies.

These contain snapshots of their performance, such as what portion of users decided not to post material after being warned it was unreliable. One document seen by the BBC suggests, in one country at least, it’s more than half.

But, the problem is evolving rapidly.

As well as Facebook’s main network, its messaging app WhatsApp has been at the centre of a number of brutal attacks, apparently motivated by fake news shared in private groups.

While there are efforts from fact-checking organisations to debunk dangerous rumours within the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook has yet to provide a tool – though it is experimenting with some ideas to help users report concerns.

These challenges did not arrive unexpectedly to those who have studied the effects of misinformation closely.

Claire Wardle, chair of First Draft, an organisation that supports efforts to combat misinformation online, said the only way for Facebook to truly solve its issues was to give outsiders greater access to its technology.

“From the very beginning, my frustration with Facebook’s programme is that it’s not an open system,” she told the BBC.

“Having a closed system that just Facebook owns, with Facebook paying fact-checkers to do this work just for Facebook, I do not think is the kind of solution that we want.”

Instead, she suggested, Facebook must explore the possibility of crowdsourcing fact-checks from a much wider source of expertise – something Mark Zuckerberg appears to be considering. Such an approach would of course bring new problems and attempts to game the system.

So, for now at least, and despite their serious reservations, most of those battling misinformation on Facebook have pledged to continue on with what’s becoming an increasingly Sisyphean ordeal.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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