Fact Check: Facebook’s Policy That Its Fact Checkers Can No Longer Check Trump Is Very, Very Bad
from the cowards dept
Quite possibly you heard that former President Donald Trump, who has spent the past two years in delusional denial about the fact that he lost the last election, and who continues to lead a dwindling coterie of equally delusional fans, has now announced his plans to run for re-election in 2024. This was widely expected, even as the Republican Party greatly underperformed during the midterms, with many blaming Trump’s delusions and the ridiculous way in which many candidates felt they needed to go along with those delusions.
Trump, of course, is free to do what he wants, but a few hours before the widely expected announcement, Meta sent around a notice to its fact-checkers that as soon as Trump (who is still banned from Facebook, though that suspension may end shortly) announces his return as a political candidate, that they can no longer fact check him:
The carve-out is not exclusive to Trump and applies to all politicians, but given the rate fact-checkers find themselves dealing with claims made by the former president, a manager on Meta’s “news integrity partnership” team emailed fact-checkers on Tuesday ahead of Trump’s announcement.
“Some of you have reached out seeking guidance regarding fact-checking political speech in anticipation of a potential candidacy announcement from former President Trump,” the Meta staffer wrote in the memo.
The company has long had an exception to its fact-checking policy for politicians.
Yes, this has been a long-term policy at Facebook, but it’s always been a profoundly stupid policy. Meta’s policy boss (and former politician), Nick Clegg, has defended the policy by saying:
We rely on third-party fact-checkers to help reduce the spread of false news and other types of viral misinformation, like memes or manipulated photos and videos. We don’t believe, however, that it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny. That’s why Facebook exempts politicians from our third-party fact-checking program.
It’s not difficult to understand where this policy comes from. The most charitable explanation for it is that political debates are inherently subjective, and people all across the political spectrum get pretty heated about different interpretations of such things, and any attempt to fact check those kinds of debates automatically becomes political, presenting a no-win scenario for Facebook. And therefore, the approach is to say “look, that’s for everyone else to decide; we’re just here letting the marketplace of ideas exist.”
That’s the charitable explanation.
A more realistic explanation, though, is that Meta’s leadership are a bunch of cowards. Choosing not to fact check politicians is inherently a political decision in and of itself. It’s the same sort of nonsense as social media sites that claim “we don’t do any moderation, because we don’t want to be arbiters of truth.” That’s not how any of it works, because users actually rely on these platforms as more than that.
Politicians require fact checking. More than almost anyone else.
And yes, people are always going to get mad at fact checking. They already do. But simply washing your hands of the problem as soon as someone becomes a politician is not some noble gesture. It’s cowardice, and trying to pretend you have no responsibility for anything.
And, yes, I’m more on the side of believing that the impact of content on social media sites regarding politics is vastly overblown, and that people who think Trump got elected because of Facebook in 2016 are simply wrong. But, even so, if you’re going to have a third party fact checking operation at all, excusing politicians from it seems extraordinarily misguided. Given the context, it’s effectively inviting politicians to blatantly lie and deceive.
Yes, this policy has been in place for years. And it’s always been a bad policy. The company can and should do better. But that would require a backbone, something that Meta’s senior leadership has not shown a history of having when it comes to dealing with politicians.