Facebook has spent the past year trying to show that it takes “fake news” seriously. But, now, the social media giant’s own fact-checkers are questioning the effectiveness of their efforts.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially balked at the notion that his company helped to spread online misinformation ahead of the 2016 presidential election, but the tech billionaire later reversed course and Facebook kicked off efforts to crack down on the fake news widely distributed on the service. Facebook launched its “Journalism Project,” aimed at curbing misinformation and improving relations with news publishers. The company partnered with third-party fact-checkers—including the Associated Press, Snopes.com, ABC News, and Politifact—who have been tasked with reviewing the news stories shared widely on Facebook and flagging false articles as “disputed content.”
However, in September, some of the third-party fact-checkers working with Facebook complained that the company was not being forthcoming with information on how effective their efforts had been in stemming the spread of false and misleading information on the social network. Now, some of those fact-checkers are concerned that their work is doing little to curb fake news on Facebook, and that their efforts might amount to little more than positive publicity for the company in the wake of ongoing criticism over Facebook’s role in disseminating information to its more than 2 billion monthly users. (The company recently revealed information on Russia’s widespread efforts to disseminate misinformation in the U.S. ahead of last year’s election.)
A new report from The Guardian features several Facebook fact-checkers, who work for outside news organizations, speaking anonymously about their concerns that their work with the company may not be reducing the spread of fake news. “I don’t feel like it’s working at all. The fake information is still going viral and spreading rapidly,” one of those journalist fact-checkers told The Guardian, which noted that its sources were not authorized to speak publicly on account of their ongoing partnership with Facebook. “It’s really difficult to hold [Facebook] accountable. They think of us as doing their work for them. They have a big problem, and they are leaning on other organizations to clean up after them.”
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“They are basically buying good PR by paying us,” another fact-checker told The Guardian.
The fact-checkers agreed that they want more transparency from Facebook, such as data that would tell them how often the “disputed” tags are actually deployed and whether or not those tags are effective in stopping false and misleading stories from being shared widely on Facebook.
A Facebook spokesperson told The Guardian that the company’s fact-checking initiatives are “not just meant to educate people about what has been disputed—it also helps us better understand what might be false and show it lower in News Feed,” adding that such data can help Facebook’s algorithms better sniff out false stories. The same spokesperson told The Guardian that an article’s future impressions dip by 80% after it is flagged as false on Facebook.
UPDATE: A Facebook spokesman sent Fortune a statement noting that company continues to work with its third-party fact-checkers “to better identify and reduce the reach of false news that people share on our platform.” He added: “Our intention is to provide another update on our progress before the end of the year, and also to begin providing more regular updates to our partners in 2018.”