The 2016 presidential election brought with it a cascade of fake news to the popular social media site Facebook, and in an effort to crack down on the spread of non-factual information on their site, Facebook has decided to partner with fact-checking services. As of April 17, 2019, one such publisher is Check Your Fact, a fact-checking news site owned by The Daily Caller, a right-wing news publication co-founded by Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson.
This is immensely troubling for a number of reasons. First and foremost, while the site publishes genuinely factual information, it does so with a political slant, using verbiage meant to shape readers’ opinions in favor of a more right-wing, conservative position. This partnership could result in users of the social media site not getting the full story when it comes to issues such as climate change.
Some may argue that nothing Check Your Fact publishes is demonstrably false. Facebook spokesperson Lauren Svensson went so far as to defend the recent partnership in an interview. She maintained that Facebook is selective in choosing which fact-checking sites they partner up with. Svenson believes Check Your Fact to be a reputable fact-checker, as it is certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), a Poynter Institute network dedicated to promoting honest practices among fact-checking initiatives.
The website does indeed publish factual information, but that info is distilled through a highly conservative lens. A fact-checker should not have a political agenda which becomes especially important when discussing issues such as climate change. While most scientists agree that climate change is a real and substantial issue today, the few papers that promote climate skepticism are almost always from conservative sources. Sites like Check Your Fact provide a true story, but an incomplete story.
Furthermore, looking past their partisan roots, Check your Fact has a spotted history relative to other fact-checking sites. IFCN director Baybars Orsek stated that Check Your Fact was briefly removed from IFCN’s list of signatories last November due to their failure to list the Daily Caller as one of their funding sources.
It isn’t wrong to hold a conservative opinion on a topic, but Facebook uses fact-checkers to flag “false” articles, sending them to the bottom of your news feed. The fear is not that the inclusion of right-wing fact-checkers will exacerbate the already prevalent issue of fake news. The issue is the fact that real news runs the risk of being labeled as “fake” by fact-checkers with agendas.
Because the system of fact-checking is biased, readers won’t be receiving the whole story making it impossible for people to develop a well-informed opinion on a topic. There is a large portion of the population that gets its news solely from social media. Hiding left-leaning articles at the bottom of their feed is no different from censoring the articles entirely. Information from both sides of the political divide must be readily accessible if society has any hope of understanding complex political issues.
While the popularity of Facebook has been dwindling among younger crowds as of late, the site still has over two billion active users. That is a huge amount of influence, and exactly the reason why fact-checkers for social network sites with that sort of power should not be allowed to take a stand on issues like climate change. Many in the field of climate science fear that the fact-checker’s right-wing affiliation could lead to the issue of climate change being swept under the rug.
Social media sites like Facebook should be safe for the open discussion of political issues. Partnering with a fact-checking site shrouded in a shallow layer of feigned impartiality undermines that. Use of fact-checkers like Check Your Fact is tantamount to censorship, which is unacceptable regardless of which side of the political party line the views fall. It is encouraging to see Facebook attempting to weed out false information, but if it is not careful about who it chooses to partner up with it may create an entirely new problem for itself.