Lead Stories is a company that was contracted by Facebook in Feb. 2019 to do fact-checking. It has recently come to light that the company also does consultation work for TikTok, a firm with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and has been banned in countries like India for being a threat to national security. TikTok is owned by ByteDance which has a professional partnership with the communist regime’s security bureau.
The co-founder and editor-in-chief of Lead Stories, Alan Duke, defended his company’s work with TikTok and noted that ByteDance does not give them guidance on what to fact-check. He also made clear that Lead Stories has no association with the CCP. At present, Lead Stories is not making any revenues from its contract with TikTok. Duke said that when revenues are generated, the amount received will be posted on the website as they have done for Facebook.
Lead Stories was founded in 2015. It was a small operation, registering less than $50,000 in operating expenses in 2017. But in 2018 and 2019, Facebook contributed $461,000 in revenues for its fact-checking service. The company has played an active role in disputing the claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential race, thus contributing to the censorship of conservative opinions on Facebook.
Facebook justifies its fact-checkers claiming they are certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN)
The fact that Facebook fact-checkers are dominated by people and organizations that support leftist, liberal ideologies is well-known. Established in 2015, IFCN is run by Poynter Institute’s journalism school. Last year, most of their funds came from two people — billionaire George Soros and Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay who has a history of donating to the Democratic Party.
The decision as to who becomes a fact-checker is made by a seven-member panel of the IFCN, of which only two of them apparently have any inkling of the U.S, political landscape. The first is Angie Drobnic Holan, an editor-in-chief at PolitiFact, which is owned by Poynter. The second person is Glenn Kessler, head of fact-checking at The Washington Post and author of the book Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth.
In September last year, it was reported that TikTok had instructed employees to censor videos that contain information regarding Falun Gong, Tiananmen Massacre, Tibetan independence, and so on. A report by the Australian Strategy Policy Institute mentioned that TikTok plays a role in disseminating propaganda in Xinjiang, the region where Beijing has been persecuting millions of Uyghurs. In December last year, TikTok suspended an account of an American teen who criticized CCP’s suppression of the Uyghur minority. In June this year, TikTok shut down the account of a Chinese student in New Jersey since one of his videos spoofed China’s national anthem.
TicToc’s owner ByteDance has an internal committee filled with communist representatives. An internal corporate document leaked in August showed that there are at least 60 managers of the company (out of 138 employees in total) who are members of the communist oversight committee. This goes against one of the most repeated claims of ByteDance — that TikTok does not have any relationship with the CCP. In China, every company is required to hand over any data requested by the government. To have an internal communist committee and claim that the company does not hand over data to Beijing; that is something most experts find hard to take at face value. The company’s CEO Zhang Yiming stated that it is committed to promoting the agenda and message of the Communist Party.
In 2018 when Beijing shut down Zhang’s humor app “Neihan Duanz,” he wrote a letter pledging loyalty to the Party. “Our product took the wrong path, and content appeared that was incommensurate with socialist core values, that did not properly implement public opinion guidance… [the company would focus on] strengthening the work of Party construction, carrying out education among our entire staff on the ‘Four Consciousnesses,’ socialist core values, [correct] guidance of public opinion, and laws and regulations, truly acting on the company’s social responsibility,” he said in the letter.