Facebook is proud of its censorship campaign, saying it is “committed to fighting the spread of misinformation on Facebook.” According to Facebook, it often works with independent third parties to identify, review, and take action on content. The only problem is that its fact-checkers are spreading their own misinformation campaigns.
Take John Stossel. John posted a video on Facebook that described California’s fires as “government fueled” — a claim backed up by UC Berkeley scientists who explain that fire suppression tactics have led to a buildup of combustible fuel in federal and state forests.
Facebook nevertheless flagged the video, indicating that “independent” fact checkers had determined the video contained misleading information. As a result, Facebook censored the video by showing it to fewer people. The independent reviewer in Stossel’s case was a group called Climate Feedback who claims to sort fact from fiction regarding climate change.
But there are two glaring problems with the independent fact-check.
First, Climate Feedback dinged Stossel’s video over it’s claim that “Forest fires are caused by poor management. Not by climate change.” Stossel admits this statement would be misleading, but there’s an issue: The quote doesn’t come from Stossel’s video. Indeed, Stossel’s video acknowledged the role climate change has in fires, stating that rising temperatures in California have made things worse.
Even more shocking, when Stossel contacted two of the three scientists whom Climate Feedback listed as reviewers, they had never reviewed (or even seen) the video. Climate Feedback, in other words, published information indicating that independent scientists had found content misleading, when those scientists had never seen the content. Talk about misleading.
Ironically, federal law (Section 230) authorizes online platforms like Facebook to regulate content and immunizes them from any lawsuit challenging its content regulation as unfair. The Administration has pushed for sensible reforms that would hold Facebook and other online platforms accountable when they unlawfully censor speech. According to Attorney General William Barr, Section 230 has too long “provided a shield for online platforms to operate with impunity.” John Stossel would surely agree.