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December 15, 2021

Facebook ‘Fact-Checkers’ Are Now ‘Protected Opinion’

A stunning admission comes from the company’s legal defense in a defamation suit.

If there were ever a “see, we told you so,” this one might be it.

In Facebook’s appeal to a California federal district court to have a defamation lawsuit against it by longtime reporter and skeptic John Stossel tossed out, the newly rechristened Meta (operators of the Facebook social media site) admitted to something we already sensed: Its “fact-checkers” are simply regurgitating their collective opinions regardless of what the facts really are.

Stossel explains the problem in his defamation lawsuit against Facebook: “The Feedback Defendants contract and work with Facebook to ‘fact-check’ content posted by Facebook users. Facebook commissions the fact-checking and applies content, labels, and other information developed by the fact-checking to the speech of its users.” In other words, the “independent” part of this “fact-checking” charade is every bit as fraudulent as the “fact-checks.”

The suit had an incredibly fascinating reveal, nonetheless. In referring to its frequent use of “fact-checker” labels on posts, the conglomerate stated in its motion for dismissal, “The [fact-check] labels themselves are neither false nor defamatory; to the contrary, they constitute protected opinion.”

Stossel responded with the proper incredulity: “Wait — Facebook’s fact-checks are just ‘opinion’?! I thought fact-checks are statements of fact.”

Perhaps climate change expert Anthony Watts had the understatement of the year when he assessed this situation. “This strikes me as public relations disaster, and possibly a looming legal disaster for Facebook, PolitiFact, Climate Feedback and other left-leaning entities that engage in biased ‘fact checking,’” wrote Watts. “Such ‘fact checks’ are now shown to be simply an agenda to suppress free speech and the open discussion of science by disguising liberal media activism as something supposedly factual, noble, neutral, trustworthy, and based on science. It is none of those.”

Yet there are a number of real-world effects that have stemmed from the rise of so-called social media “fact-checkers” in the last half-decade or so. Entities that run afoul of the social media censors too often eventually find out their content has been sent to the gulag of the rarely seen bottom of a consumer’s news feed — if it appears at all. That effective “shadow-banning” is far more detrimental to free speech than deplatforming a few high-profile characters.

Our regular readers have been made aware of the “fact-checkers’” effect on us, but it’s not just us. Other conservative websites have been forced into adapting to this “new normal” by increasing their advertisement quantity (while decreasing its quality) or creating their own “VIP” content lanes for paying subscribers.

Obviously, the other option is to relocate a social media presence away from Facebook and its “fact-checkers” to other outlets like Parler, Gab, and so forth. This list of options doesn’t yet include the proposed “Truth Social” platform bankrolled by Donald Trump. However, even if Truth Social gets all 75 million Trump voters to combine with the usership of Gab, Parler, and the rest, they will still be well short of the worldwide reach of Facebook.

But had Facebook been an honest broker from the start about its fact-checking, it may have saved itself having the competition, not to mention a lot of time and legal trouble. It’s obvious, though, that Facebook set this whole charade up to exert its influence while putting its own liability at arm’s length — the plausible deniability of being able to throw a group like Climate Feedback under the bus to save Facebook from a big payout to a reporter like John Stossel (or some other aggrieved party).

As Meta notes in its motion to dismiss, there is plenty of precedent for dismissal because the company has long walked the Section 230 tightrope between content curator and composer. It may take an act of Congress to bring social media into line, and that’s making the enormous assumption that what Congress does would be good. In the meantime, those of us who really care about truthful information on the Wuhan flu and its vaccines, climate change, and the Biden administration will have to ignore social media censors and check facts for ourselves.

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