With Donald Trump constantly spouting off about the “FAKE NEWS” media reporting stories that aren’t true — despite his own verified torrent of purposeful lies that total over 20,005 as of July 9th according to The Washington Post, dwarfed only by the number of COVID-19 deaths he’s presided over — the role of fact-checkers in watching over the distribution of news stories on social media has become increasingly important in determining which stories get circulated on your news feed and which are banished from ever seeing any significant light of day.
While such fact-checkers are employed by each of the social media giants in an effort to prevent their feeds from becoming cesspools of misinformation and conspiracy theories, they have done little to actually prevent the rise of such insidious sources of paranoid insanity as the QAnon movement.
While right-wing propaganda spreaders have been the most vocal complainers accusing social media platforms of censorship through fact-checking, the fact that Facebook employs organizations such as the Daily Caller, the arch-conservative website founded by Fox New’s host Tucker Carlson, to carry out its fact-checking duties means that progressive news organizations like Occupy Democrats are often targeted with harrassment over minor and insignificant details of stories that are rated “Partially False” over parts of the story that have little to do with its actual underlying truth but nevertheless reduces the distribution of the article and subsequently the ability of a news organization to recoup its costs.
When an article or meme is cited as “Partially False” because, for instance, the data it gives on rising coronavirus cases was from the three weeks ago instead of two weeks ago — even though the figures for the later week were even worse and make the point of the meme more forcefully rather than undermining its intent — it prevents the truth of the content from being seen by the audience for which it was intended and silences that truth.
One fact-checking organization demonstrated the fragility of the truth they were supposedly protecting when they had to issue a retraction for a premature determination that “Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, claimed without evidence that President Donald Trump ‘wants to cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots.’”
FactCheck.org, a project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center, was forced to sheepishly admit that Biden was actually correct and amend their post from June 26th entitled “Biden Floats Baseless Election Conspiracy” to include the regrettable information that the Democratic nominee’s claims were actually confirmed by Donald Trump himself.
“In an Aug. 13 interview, Trump admitted that he opposes a coronavirus pandemic relief bill crafted by the House Democrats because it includes funding for the U.S. Postal Service and state election officials — money that Trump said is needed to allow the Postal Service to handle an expected surge in mail-in voting.” FactCheck.org inserted at the top of their original post.
The organization was also motivated to post an updated story entitled “Trump Proves Biden Right on USPS Funding, Mail-In Ballots” to clarify the most current information about the scandal.
There is a reason that social media platforms outsource the responsibility of verifying the truthfulness of the posts on their platforms.
By placing the responsibility — and the blame — for any disputed interpretations of the facts on others it avoids bearing any of that responsibility on its own shoulders while signaling to Congress that it is working steadily on self-regulation to prevent them from passing more restrictive regulations on their lucrative platforms.
Meanwhile, the poor quality of many of the fact-checks winds up further contributing, along with Trump’s clarion call of “FAKE NEWS,” to the erosion of public trust in the media, allowing the truthfulness of the verification of the president’s own lies to be called into question.
In the end, the question becomes who can you trust to fact-check the fact-checkers? Who can you trust at all in government and the media?
In these days of media bubbles and extreme polarization, the answer may include fewer people than we really need right now.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.