That watchdog is none other than NewsGuard, which was founded in 2018 by publishing veteran Steven Brill and former Dow Jones executive Gordon Crovitz.
From phony cures to conspiracy theories, NewsGuard homed in on popular pages that Facebook is allowing to spread all manner of misinformation related to the current pandemic.
“These pages are up and active on Facebook … with a total of 18.6 million followers … despite Facebook’s multiple announcements of its efforts to eliminate or at least warn its users about this kind of dangerous, exploitive content,” Brill said in an email on Tuesday morning.
In some cases, such as three Facebook pages affiliated with the website RealFarmacy.com, NewsGuard found evidence of what appears to be what Facebook calls "coordinated inauthentic behavior" ("when groups of pages or people work together to mislead others about who they are or what they're doing") -- a clear violation of Facebook’s policies.
Among most of the false posts it reviewed, NewsGuard also found that Facebook did not provide any warning, fact-checking language, or links to more credible sources.
Since the outbreak began, Facebook recently estimated that it had directed over 2 billion users to resources from the World Health Organization and other health authorities through its information center.
In March alone, Facebook said its flagship platform displayed warnings on roughly 40 million posts related to COVID-19 on Facebook, which were based on approximately 4,000 articles flagged by fact-checking partners.
To sniff out misinformation, Guy Rosen, vice president, integrity at Facebook, recently said that the company relied on about 60 fact-checking organizations to review and rate the infinite stream of content that flows through its platform.
Yet, of the posts that Newsguard has so-far identified publishing COVID-related misinformation, it found that 63% did not have any warning or fact-check link attached to the post.
In some cases, multiple posts that asserted the same virus-related falsehood were treated differently, with certain posts flagged by Facebook’s fact-checkers and others left untouched.
According to Brill and his colleagues, it did not appear that the fact-checker warnings were more prevalent on posts with high engagement, or pages with high follower counts.
“Whether or not a fact check was shown appeared to be random,” in their words.
More concerning still, even for posts that did have fact-checker warnings, those warnings would only have appeared after the hoax had been published.
“That lapse is exacerbated by Facebook’s policy of not providing information to its users that Facebook Pages like these have been known to publish misinformation or hoaxes in the past,” Newsguard points out in its new report.
Meanwhile, this is not the first time that Brill and his team have raised the alarm about many of these bad actors.
On the contrary, it found that, of the 174 COVID-related misinformation sites identified in this new report, it had already flagged 80% of them for publishing misinformation in the past.
All told, NewsGuard said it detected 15 misinformation “super-spreaders,” which are Facebook Pages with more than 100,000 page “likes,” and which have published or shared clearly and egregiously false content about the pandemic.
All of these pages were still active as of April 17.Facebook did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.