Facebook VP Concedes ‘Fact Checkers’ Have Own Agenda

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Facebook's vice president Nick Clegg holds a speech at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin on June 24, 2019. Minutes of a meeting between Clegg and European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova from November of 2020 show the Facebook executive admitting fact checkers employed by the giant have their own political agenda.
Facebook's vice president Nick Clegg holds a speech at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin on June 24, 2019. Minutes of a meeting between Clegg and European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova from November of 2020 show the Facebook executive admitting fact checkers employed by the giant have their own political agenda. (Image: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images)

According to minutes of a meeting between Facebook VP Nick Clegg and a European Commission executive, the Facebook executive acknowledged that the monolith’s censors and “fact checkers,” may be biased and chasing their own political agendas. 

Reports by The Daily Mail state Clegg, who is also former Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, made the remarks to EC Vice President Vera Jourova during a meeting held in November relating to how Facebook “countered disinformation during the 2020 US Presidential election.” 

In 2016, Facebook introduced so-called fact checking measures, boldly claiming that its failure to clamp down on false information is what led to the election of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

In theory, fact checking measures are intended to benefit the public, as users can alert Facebook to the content they believe to be “fake news.” Critics, however, were not so sure, warning that Facebook would rely on left wing fact checkers and that the project would be a “disaster.”

The many irregularities resulting from Facebook’s fact checker initiative led to users pointing out what they believe is an out-and-out bias. Criticism abounded across the globe, with people accusing the company of censoring valid information while suppressing free speech. Facebook hit back in a rebuttal to a scathing piece by the Wall Street Journal, saying: “If someone feels that the fact check is inappropriate, they can sue it, and the fact checker has the discretion to change the label if there is a benefit.”

This year, a hot topic circulating among internet users focussed on the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, vaccines, and debate around whether COVID-19 was natural or emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Subsequently, Facebook then announced on Feb. 8 that it would be removing “false claims” regarding SARS-CoV-2 after an upswing of mainstream coverage on the possibility that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, may have been leaked from the high-security bioresearch laboratory in Wuhan, China. 

Then, in a sudden turn of events, the company said last month that it would no longer be censoring and putting warning labels on such posts. The about-face came after President Joe Biden ordered an inquiry into the claims.

In another example, in a May 16 article published in Wall Street Journal, physicist Steven E. Koonin criticized Facebook for “spreading disinformation under the guise of ‘fact-checking’.” Facebook’s censors did not dare to criticize Koonin’s 75,000-word CO2-narrative-debunking book Unsettled directly, but only Mark Mills’ 900-word review of it, which Koonin said unfairly impacted his book’s credibility.

A further example is of a company called Lead Stories – an oversight company hired by Facebook, which regularly does consultation work for TikTok, which is in turn, owned by ByteDance, a firm with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP.)

And in another report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) last year titled Mapping More of China’s Tech Giants: AI and Surveillance, the ASPI found that ByteDance actively “collaborates with public security bureaus across China, including in Xinjiang” to spread CCP propaganda in the region where millions of Uighurs are ruthlessly persecuted.

ASPI also reported that TikTok had instructed employees to censor videos that contain information regarding Falun Gong, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and the Tibetan independence movement. 

Facebook justifies its use of fact-checkers, claiming that the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), a network consisting of 80 organizations globally, with three in the United Kingdom, only serves to flag false information, assuring unbiased discernment.

Yet, the minutes of the meeting between Clegg and Vera Jourova clearly reveal that Clegg is wholly conscious that those who do the oversight work might be biased. They state, “He [Mr. Clegg] also stressed that independent fact-checkers are not necessarily objective because they have their own agenda.”

In a statement, Facebook responded to defend their VP, saying Clegg only described “one benefit of having a range of independent fact-checking partners is the variety of specialisms in different countries and issue areas that they bring.”

Former UK Cabinet Minister David Jones also commented on Clegg’s statement to Daily Mail, saying that it was “deeply worrying.” Jones added: “The admission completely destroys the credibility of Facebook’s own procedures.” 

“It offers news organisations no right of appeal when it censors them, even though it may have acted on the advice of fact-checkers who are motivated by ‘their own agenda’.”

Facebook’s sophisticated algorithms can downgrade such stories that eventually disappear completely from the site.