Statement by NewsGuard on Today’s Facebook Oversight Board Ruling

Board’s call on Facebook to embrace safety by design is similar to regulatory requirements that platforms give users the choice to access “middleware” safety tools

(New York and London, May 5, 2021) The Facebook Oversight Board today criticized Facebook’s handling of the ban on the Donald Trump account relating to posts about the Jan. 6 events at the U.S. Capitol. In its comments, the Oversight Board recommended that Facebook embrace different “design and policy” choices that would have prevented Facebook’s contribution to the violence.

The Oversight Board made this recommendation: “Undertake a comprehensive review of Facebook’s potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud and the exacerbated tensions that culminated in the violence in the United States on January 6. This should be an open reflection on the design and policy choices that Facebook has made that may allow its platform to be abused.” 

“Most companies take it for granted that their products should be designed foremost for safety. Instead of safety by design, Facebook embraces engagement by design, with its algorithms set to maximize the time people spend on Facebook, even if this means Facebook sharing and recommending misinformation and hoaxes,” said NewsGuard co-CEO Steven Brill. “Maximum engagement maximizes advertising revenues. As we saw at the Capitol in January, maximizing engagement and revenues also resulted in widespread sharing of hoaxes that led to violence and insurrection.”

“Media accounts reported that many people who stormed the U.S. Capitol had followed untrustworthy sources of news and information in their Facebook feeds and in groups that the Facebook algorithm recommended they join. They followed websites such as Infowars and OAN, without Facebook providing any information about the nature of these sites feeding them the news,” said NewsGuard co-CEO Gordon Crovitz. “If Facebook had provided its users with explanations about the nature of who is feeding them the news on its platform, there is every reason to believe that many of the people who stormed the Capitol would not have believed the falsehoods they were recommended to follow by Facebook.”  

NewsGuard found that 166 websites it rated as untrustworthy published false information about the U.S. vote between election day and the inauguration of the new president.

“The UK government’s Online Harms proposal takes the same ‘safety by design’ approach recommended by the Facebook Oversight Board,” said NewsGuard managing director for Europe Anna-Sophie Harling. “This means platforms such as Facebook will need to provide access to middleware solutions such as NewsGuard so that their users will have choices about what is in their news feeds, including whether the platforms are sharing and recommending hoaxes from misinformation sites.”

NewsGuard has rated all the news and information sites that account for 95% of engagement online in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France and Italy, using nine basic, apolitical criteria of journalistic practice. Each site gets a green or red rating, a point score from 0-100 and a Nutrition Label detailing the nature of the site. Companies such as Microsoft make NewsGuard ratings and labels available to their users to help protect them and their families from misinformation and hoaxes. 

The label for Infowars can be accessed here, and the label for OAN can be accessed here. Research by Gallup showing that access to information about the trustworthiness of online sources, produced by journalists with diverse backgrounds, leads to less belief and sharing of misinformation can be accessed here.

About NewsGuard

Launched in March 2018 by media entrepreneur and award-winning journalist Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard provides credibility ratings and detailed “Nutrition Labels” for thousands of news and information websites. NewsGuard rates all the news and information websites that account for 95% of online engagement across the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Italy. NewsGuard products include NewsGuard, HealthGuard, and BrandGuard, which helps marketers concerned about their brand safety, and the Misinformation Fingerprints catalog of top hoaxes.

NewsGuard rates each site based on nine apolitical criteria of journalistic practice, including whether a site repeatedly publishes false content, whether it regularly corrects or clarifies errors, and whether it avoids deceptive headlines. It awards weighted points for each criterion and sums them up; a score of less than 60 earns a “Red” rating, while 60 and above earns a “Green” rating, which indicates it is generally reliable.

Advertisers, advertising agencies and advertising tech companies can license NewsGuard’s brand-safety product, BrandGuard. NewsGuard’s ratings and Nutrition Labels can be licensed by internet service providers, browsers, news aggregators, education companies, and social media and search platforms in order to make NewsGuard’s information about news websites available to their users. Consumers can access these ratings by purchasing a subscription to NewsGuard, which costs $2.95/month and includes access to NewsGuard’s browser extension for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox and its mobile app for iOS and Android. The extension is available for free on Microsoft’s Edge browser through a license agreement with Microsoft, and NewsGuard’s ratings can also be accessed free through the Edge mobile browser. Hundreds of public libraries globally receive free access to use NewsGuard’s browser extension on their public-access computers to give their patrons more context for the news they encounter online. For more information, including to download the browser extension and review the ratings process, visit newsguardtech.com.

NewsGuard Contacts

  • Steven Brill, Co-CEO, steven.brill@newsguardtech.com, +1 212-332-6301
  • Gordon Crovitz, Co-CEO, gordon.crovitz@newsguardtech.com, +1 212-332-6407
  • Anna-Sophie Harling, Managing Director, Europe, ash@newsguardtech.com, +44 7733700179