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Facebook’s preferential treatment of U.S. conservatives puts its fact-checking program in danger

BuzzFeed reports:

On May 8, Prager University, a nonprofit conservative media outlet, published a video on Facebook that incorrectly claimed “there is no evidence that CO2 emissions are the dominant factor” in climate change. Within days, Climate Feedback, a nonpartisan network of scientists and a member of Facebook’s global fact-checking partnership, rated the content as false — a designation that was supposed to result in serious consequences.

It was PragerU’s second strike for false content that month, which under Facebook’s own policies should have triggered “repeat offender” penalties including the revocation of advertising privileges and the specter of possible deletion.

But it didn’t. As first reported by BuzzFeed News last week, a Facebook employee intervened on PragerU’s behalf and asked for a reexamination of the judgment, citing “partner sensitivity” and the amount of money the organization had spent on ads. Eventually, while the false labels on PragerU’s posts remained, Facebook disappeared the strikes from its internal record and no one — not the public, the fact-checkers, or Facebook’s own employees — was informed of the decision.

Meanwhile, PragerU cashed in on the fact-checks of its climate misinformation. On May 19 — the day after it received its first strike for false content — it launched a fundraiser. “Facebook is using biased 3rd party fact-checkers to flag content and censor conservatives,” the organization told its more than 4.2 million followers. “Is Facebook now the arbiter of truth?”

The campaign raised $21,637.

Since at least late 2016, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended Facebook by insisting it should not be “an arbiter of truth,” while creating a third-party fact-checking program to fill that role of umpire. But journalists and researchers at the dozens of organizations that make up Facebook’s fact-checking operation say the company is often just that. Some told BuzzFeed News they were surprised to learn their verdicts had been ignored or overruled by Facebook in a closed-door process with little transparency, and warned that this risks undermining the program’s credibility.

“They are the arbiters of the consequences for publishing false or misleading information,” said one fact-checker who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions from Facebook.

“If people want to evade consequences, it’s easy to do it,” they added. [Continue reading…]

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