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Facebook Says Fact Checks Might Not Actually Be Factual

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: December 14, 2021
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 28: In this photo illustration, the Facebook logo is displayed on the screen of an iPhone in front of a Meta logo on October 28, 2021 in Paris, France. Facebook is now claiming its fact-checks are just opinions. (Image: Chesnot/Getty Images) in front of a Meta logo on October 28, 2021 in Paris, France. This October 28, during the Facebook Connect virtual conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced the name change of Facebook, believing that the term Facebook was too closely linked to that of the platform of the same name, launched in 2004. It is now official, the Facebook company changes its name and becomes Meta. (Photo illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)

Facebook has long been accused of censoring content through third-party fact-checkers. Such fact-checkers go through the controversial content and give a judgment on whether such content is based on facts or not. 

Many people have accused these fact-checkers of being incorrect and biased in their approach. Now, Facebook itself has admitted that articles labeled as “fact-checked” are not an admission that such articles contain actual facts.

Facebook’s admission came during the company’s court battle with television presenter John Stossel who had sued the platform for defamation after Facebook added “fact check” labels on Stossel’s videos on climate change.

In its court filing, Facebook insisted that Stossel failed to state a claim for defamation. Stossel failed to establish that Meta (Facebook’s new name) “acted with actual malice,” the filing said. The defendant’s claim focuses on fact-check articles written by Climate Feedback and not the labels “affixed through” the Facebook platform.

“The labels themselves are neither false nor defamatory; to the contrary, they constitute protected opinion. And even if Stossel could attribute Climate Feedback’s separate webpages to Meta, the challenged statements on those pages are likewise neither false nor defamatory. Any of these failures would doom Stossel’s complaint, but the combination makes any amendment futile,” the court filing states.

By calling the fact-check labels “protected opinion,” Facebook has admitted that the fact-checking process is not a guarantee that an article contains actual facts. The admission raises questions on the need for fact-checkers and Facebook’s censorship of posts flagged by such fact-checkers.

In a write-up by The Epoch Times in October last year, Stossel laid out the crux of the problem he has with Facebook. One of his videos on climate change was flagged with a warning stating “missing context.” 

The label stated that the information in the video could be misleading according to “independent fact-checkers.” As a result, some of his viewers criticized him for posting such information. Stossel points out that such labels and warnings end up affecting the future view count of his videos.

The video was fact-checked by an entity called Climate Feedback which claims to sort out “fact from fiction.”  

“Facebook says I can appeal its throttling of my video, but my appeal must go to Climate Feedback, possibly the very activists who’d made up quotes from me… It’s wrong for Facebook to give these activists the power to throttle videos they don’t like,” Stossel writes.

After he had appealed, Climate Feedback insisted that the video was misleading even though Stossel showed that some of the quotes attributed to him are not even present in the video. “Facebook lets activists restrict my videos based on something I never said,” he stated.

In Stossel’s initial complaint filed at court, his attorneys insisted that Facebook “defamed Stossel with malice.” They attributed to Stossel a claim that he did not make. After he brought this to Facebook’s attention, the company “refused to correct their speech.” Instead, the social media platform “intentionally left the false attribution online” for everyone to see.

“With this lawsuit, Stossel asks the Court to declare that Defendants are not permitted to hide behind the masquerade of a ‘fact-check’ to defame him with impunity, and that they must make him whole for the damage they have maliciously caused by their provably false and disparaging statements about his reporting,” the complaint states.