On Sunday, January 17, 2021, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s congratulatory message to Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni following his re-election for a sixth term in office was flagged by Facebook as false shortly after being shared on State House Kenya page.
The page handlers were forced to pull down the message that had also been shared on microblogging site Twitter.
However, hawk-eyed netizens were quick to notice that the post had erroneously been labelled as the explanation given didn’t match the content of the president’s message.
Facebook had attached an article by one of its third-party fact-checkers, PesaCheck, published on December 4, 2019, with the description “False: President Museveni has not announced a cabinet reshuffle”.
“Independent fact-checkers say that this information (the president’s message) has no basis in fact, ” the description further read.
The State House Kenya’s post had not mentioned anything about Museveni reshuffling his cabinet.
PesaCheck is a Code for Africa (CfA) fact-checking initiative.
The false label sparked a heated debate on social media coming at a time Facebook has been censoring world leaders including US President Donald Trump.
The PesaCheck team has, however, acknowledged the error and issued an explanation on what might have happened.
According to the organisation, the error appears to have originated from the automation system, which looks for similar content that has been fact-checked.
“In this case, both posts shared the same photo of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, ” PesaCheck’s Managing Editor Enock Nyariki said.
“But the post by State House did not have any false information that had been looked into by fact-checkers.”
Nyariki explained that late last year, Facebook, which partners with third-party fact-checkers under the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), introduced internal changes to their platform, allowing fact-checkers to mark what in a post is false — text, photo/video, or both.
“Those changes were a big departure from what was done previously — where the whole post was given a rating without being precise from the onset. Specifics of what in a post was false were clarified in a fact-check, and not on the Facebook labels. In this case, the fact-check that was published in December 2019, which covered a false claim about President Museveni reshuffling his cabinet, had the same photo that was shared by State House. That photo had been marked as false, in the old system — because it was part of a post with misinformation, ” he added.
“When State House used the same image, the Facebook automation system immediately marked it as false. Within 15 minutes of the post being made, we corrected to indicate that the photo wasn’t false.”
To prevent such errors from reoccurring, Nyariki said that PesaCheck has reported the same to the tech giant.