Facebook notified a user, Robby Soave from Reason.com, of a serious event on Monday.
A friend also reach Soave that the social media website automatically blurred the accompanying image when she shared one of his recent articles.
According to her, Facebook replaced the declaration with the warning that the link contained “false information checked by independent fact-checkers.”
Here’s what the article was about: “The Study That Convinced the CDC To Support Mask Mandates in Schools Is Junk Science.”
An error message referred users to a fact-checking article by Science Feedback that claimed masks could help limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in schools and it was incorrect to declare “there’s no science behind masks on kids.”
It was strange to see this claim fact-checked since Soave had never made such a claim.
In truth, Science Feedback was actually the body that had provided incorrect information in order to mislead readers into believing something different than what the user actually wrote in his article.
To note, the article was sourced from David Zweig’s piece in The Atlantic.
So, in the article, as written by the user, the CDC relied on a flawed study when citing the benefits of school mask mandates, which was already demonstrated by the origiresearchsearchch done by Zweig.
“Masks may well help prevent the spread of COVID, [some experts] told me, and there may well be contexts in which they should be required in schools,” Zweig wrote.
“But the data being touted by the CDC—which showed a dramatic more-than-tripling of risk for unmasked students—ought to be excluded from this debate.”
Zweig claims that the study in question was riddled with problems. In addition to not verifying whether or not the schools in the data set were operational during the study period, researchers failed to take into consideration critical factors such as vaccination rates. Cases rather than outbreaks were counted.
That’s all there is to it. Both Zweig and Soave do not claim that masks do not limit transmission in schools or that they do not work on kids. They both analyzed the same single study dealing with mask mandates.
The research by Zweig didn’t receive a similar “false information” label. Most especially, when Soave shared Zweig’s research work, he didn’t receive a warning on Facebook.
Soave’s Reason article, on the other hand, generated the following disclaimer from the social media site: “Pages and websites that repeatedly publish or share false news will see their overall distribution reduced and be restricted in other ways.”
Fact-checking functions for Facebook are handled by more than 80 third-party organizations.
Their roles were decided upon by the company; they do not have authority to remove content, but once they review a post and deem it false, it will be deprioritized by the social media site, reducing its exposure in user feeds.
Fact-checkers have considerable authority because of this. The appeals are also handled by them internally.
There can be and has been controversy over their decisions.
A contributor to Reason and host of Stossel TV, John Stossel has blamed Facebook fact-checkers for “stifling open debate.”
Stossel has also been subjected to “false information” labels.
“In my video arguing that government mismanagement fueled California’s wildfires, I acknowledged that climate change played a role,” Stossel explained in a subsequent video, summarizing his side of the dispute against FB.
Two editors of Climate Feedback eventually admitted that they hadn’t seen Stossel’s video earlier.
But, having watched the video later, they also agreed with him that it wasn’t misleading, since they had noted that mismanagement by governments and climate change were both contributing factors to forest fires.
According to Stossel, Climate Feedback still failed to “correct their smear.”
It’s been better for Soave anyways. Soave had contacted Facebook as well as Science Feedback for clarification and correction.
He received an apology from Science Feedback on Tuesday, saying that the label “false information” had been applied incorrectly.
“We have taken another look at the Reason article and confirm that the rating was applied in error to this article,” they noted.
“The flag has been removed. We apologize for the mistake.”
Having requested additional details, Soave received this email from Ayobami Olugbemiga, Facebook’s policy communications manager stating:
“Thanks for reaching out and appealing directly to Science Feedback,” he penned.
“As you know, our fact-checking partners independently review and rate content on our apps and are responsible for processing your appeal.”
In the meantime, Stossel is suing Facebook, Science Feedback, and Climate Feedback.
Stossel acknowledges that a private company has the right to restrict, remove, or deprioritize content as it sees fit.
Furthermore, the science behind climate change can be argued over by individuals and organizations alike.
The fact-checkers, Stossel claims, defamed him by attributing to him a quotation which he never made.
“This case presents a simple question: do Facebook and its vendors defame a user who posts factually accurate content when they publicly announce that the content failed a ‘fact-check’ and is ‘partly false,’ and by attributing to the user a false claim that he never made?” Stossel’s lawyers wrote in their filing. “The answer, of course, is yes.”
In the US, companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube are immune from lawsuits based on defamation for the speech of actors on their platforms because of Section 230 of the Federal Communications Commission Act.
Generally, users cannot sue Facebook for libel.
For the company’s own speech, there is an exception—you might be able to sue Facebook if an employee issues a press release or makes an online statement.
Even though Facebook has acknowledged that it does pay third-party fact-checkers, the company insists that the third parties are independent and distinct.
Republicans and Democrats alike want Section 230 to be scrapped entirely.
To name a few, there is the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, and former President Joe Biden.
In terms of overly aggressive fact-checking and content moderation, getting rid of Section 230 wouldn’t solve the problem, but it could alleviate it.
Nonetheless, it may even worsen the situation.
Facebook will likely be less permissive the more liability it is exposed to.
Notwithstanding, the status quo remains unsatisfying, however.
The fact-checkers decision to reverse course in Soave’s case is a good thing, but Facebook should reconsider its formally-binding relationship with a company that consistently misquotes its subject matter.