Political Editors / November 18, 2021

In Brief: The Myth of ‘Fact-Checking’

How Facebook created the world’s largest censorship operation.

We in our humble shop have both routinely slammed Leftmedia “fact-checkers” and been the target of them. Theirs is a despicable genre of media malpractice, and its prevalence and power has only grown. Veteran journalist Mark Hemingway agrees:

The 2020 presidential election resulted in something I never thought I’d see — widespread, Soviet-style political censorship in American media. This censorship still dominates our discourse a year later, with no end in sight. There’s a lot to be said about how we got to this place, but it’s worth zeroing in on the two particular mechanisms for how this censorship is being enforced. The first is the rise of politicized media “fact-checkers,” and the second is Facebook. The fact these two entities have now joined forces means speaking freely online without an algorithm slapping a warning label on your opinion or psychoanalyzing your potential for extremism is becoming difficult.

At length, he recounts his personal experience with the now-defunct Weekly Standard, which included his bosses electing “to be one of a handful of media outlets that agreed to partner with Facebook for the social media giant’s ‘fact checking’ program.” That included a Facebook-paid “fact-checker” working at The Weekly Standard.

In exchange for a few crumbs from a company with a $1 trillion market cap, we would write “fact checks” taking politicians and pundits to task for spreading “disinformation.” Facebook would then use those write-ups to make content moderation decisions.

Hemingway had previously slammed Facebook’s program, so, naturally, the Standard’s editors didn’t consult him. “The editors presumably thought as a conservative publication, we would bring some balance to the endeavor,” he said. “I felt like they should have known better.”

Ultimately, however, even their “fact-checker” issued a warning in a staff meeting about his power to throttle traffic.

When he entered a claim of “false,” he was asked to enter the URL of the story where he found the claim — at which point Facebook, according to their own press releases, would then kill 80 percent of the global internet traffic to that story. …

It was a record scratch moment in the staff meeting. After a beat, I spoke up and said something to the effect of “you mean to tell me, that a single journalist has the power to render judgment to nearly wipe a news story off of the internet?” Where our publication had once taken pride in challenging the dishonesty and bias of the corporate media, it dawned on me — and more than a few others in the room — that whatever influence our failing publication had was now being leveraged to act as part of a terrifyingly effective censorship regime controlled by a hated social media company run by one of the world’s richest men.

Hemingway then writes, “The origins of Facebook’s fact checking program are not a mystery: Trump won in 2016.” The company had loved sharing credit for Barack Obama’s win in 2012, but Donald Trump in 2016 was a different story. And of course, Hemingway says, “That this [fact-check partner] program was launched just two months after Trump won should make the motivation of the program abundantly clear.”

Indeed, over the five years since Trump’s election, Facebook has drastically tightened the screws on what information is allowed on its platform, especially “regarding what you can and can’t say online regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.” Specifically, Facebook actively worked to hurt Trump’s reelection campaign while helping Joe Biden.

The fact checking farce reached its apotheosis in October of 2020 when the New York Post obtained damning information from Hunter Biden’s laptop detailing Biden family corruption. Twitter immediately blocked the link to the New York Post story, prohibiting it from being shared by anyone. And Facebook immediately announced they weren’t going to bother with the charade of waiting to fact check the story before censoring it. …

By the way, that Facebook worker was a former Democrat operative.

A Democratic political operative, employed by the largest social network in the world, was announcing the decision to bypass Facebook’s allegedly impartial fact checking process, and unilaterally censoring a story damaging to a Democratic presidential candidate in the middle of a close election.

Was the decision to bury such a damaging story about corruption involving the man who’s now President of the United States decisive in an election that was essentially decided by 40,000 votes out of 159 million cast? Well, journalists seemed to think so.

Again at length, Hemingway recaps some of the history of Facebook’s censorship, including the so-called “whistleblower” who merely wants more censorship. As for the political angle, he says:

Speculation or not, it’s perfectly rational to assume political pressure from Democrats on Facebook is ultimately about making sure that Facebook continues to control information in ways that benefit them politically.

Finally, he concludes with the big picture:

Facebook’s indefensible justifications can’t just bulldoze past the reality Americans now face. In just a few years, we went from concerns about disinformation that were vague and hysterical in equal measure, to allowing one of the world’s largest corporations wide latitude to capriciously censor the news with the goal of influencing elections on behalf of Democrats. The press, the one group that is supposed to warn us about the dangers of this kind of fascist arrangement, is totally fine with submitting to and enabling this unprecedented exercise of power. And no, that’s not hyperbole — despite all the howling about “Drumpf,” the actual definition of fascism put forth by Mussolini himself is the merging of corporate and state power, typically achieved by alliance with a political party. It seems to accurately describe the situation.

Daily Wire subscribers can read the whole thing here.

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