BLOGThe Weekly Digest: 12-21-16

By James Arnold Posted on: | December 21, 2016
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Note: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We'll see you next year!

On to the news.

 

That "Fake News" Epidemic

 

Perhaps you've heard: People are very, very worried about so-called "fake news." This isn't a sudden influx of hoaxes reminiscent of the early years of the internet, like the infamous "You swallow 8 spiders a year while you sleep" myth.

Instead, what concerns people are conspiracy sites. These websites live on the factless political fringe and aim at stirring up clicks for profit.

But how do we determine which websites are peddling in lies and which are truthful?

Facebook proposes we outsource that job to "third party fact-checkers." Per their release:

"We’ve started a program to work with third-party fact checking organizations that are signatories of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles. We’ll use the reports from our community, along with other signals, to send stories to these organizations. If the fact checking organizations identify a story as fake, it will get flagged as disputed and there will be a link to the corresponding article explaining why."

Well, who fact-checks the fact-checkers? Or, to put it more seriously, do we have reason to believe that the fact-checkers involved in this will provide a fair and unbiased lens through which to view the world?

To summarize The Daily Signal, no.

To quote them:

"When you look at the signatories on the Poynter list, you’ll find seven from the United States: ABC News, The Washington Post, Snopes, Associated Press, FactCheck.org, Climate Feedback, and Politifact.

"Aha.

"Talk about the devil being in the details. These are hardly unbiased fact-checkers—conservatives have raised alarms about several of them."

The article proceeds to look at numerous examples, including Snopes claiming that a shooter registered as a Democrat was not a Democrat, and thus stories that claim the shooter was a Democrat were wrong. Perhaps my favorite bad fact-checking comes from The Washington Post, where they held back from giving Sen. Ted Cruz the "Pinocchio Award" in 2015 when he claimed (correctly) that the IRS code has more words than the Bible. The fact-check concluded that while he was "technically correct," it was a "nonsense fact" and may actually go against his point (which was that the IRS code is so large, it confuses American taxpayers).

So the groups that Facebook tapped to help fact-check the news you read on their platform are biased.

But, you might say, fact-checking was a big part of this last election! Didn't Politifact earn an award back in 2008 for fact-checking the election? Surely they can't be biased!

On that note, I point you to an epic piece of research from Matt Shapiro, writing for The Federalist:

"Whenever you see the 'Republicans Lie More Than Democrats' headline, whether it is in The Atlantic, the New York Times, Politico, or Salon, you’ll find that the data to support this claim comes from PolitiFact’s aggregate truth metrics. Using collective data instead of individual cases lets PolitiFact gloss over individual articles that delivered a questionable rating, comparable situations for two speakers that PolitiFact treated differently, biased selection of facts, and instances in which PolitiFact made an editorial decision to check one speaker over another.

"We could list instance after instance in which we might feel PolitiFact was being unfair, but all those details are washed away when we look at the aggregate totals. And those totals certainly seem to run heavily against politicians with an 'R' next to their names."

What follows in the rest of the article is something truly unique: The author presents research analyzing and graphing the results of Politifact's fact-checking over the years, noting the inherent bias against Republicans. The research does not all fit in one post, and the rest will surely be fascinating as well.

In addition, Life Site News notes that many of the fact-checking organizations have also demonstrated a pro-abortion bias. Our favorite example, since it involves our own Casey Mattox, involves a time when Mattox correctly stated that Planned Parenthood does not offer mammograms at any of their locations. Politifact managed to rate it at "half true," saying that the organization refers women to get mammograms elsewhere.

If you can't see how that invalidates what Casey Mattox said, neither can we.

So, what should Facebook do, rather than allow biased fact-checkers to take conservative content and hide it?

I'll let Mollie Hemingway make a suggestion:

"The only thing Facebook should be doing, if it really wants to take part in this hysteria, is flagging made-up stories. Not stories that don’t share the political views of the extremely biased PolitiFact."

We should note that Facebook is a private company and, as such, is free to do what it wishes with its platform. But if Facebook purports to be a social media platform for all, picking fact-checkers that are biased against a large number of users is a terrible business model. Because, after all, that's not "fact" checking at all.

 
As always, you can receive the Alliance Alert Daily Digest right in your inbox. Subscribe by clicking here.

James Arnold

News and Research Manager

James Arnold manages and edits the Alliance Alert, a daily repository of news in all forms—written, spoken, or in video format.

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