Mark Zuckerberg spread misinformation about Facebook’s fact-checking program during his congressional testimony
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a false answer when asked during a congressional hearing about a division of right-wing website The Daily Caller being involved in Facebook’s fact-checking efforts.
Zuckerberg deflected Facebook’s responsibility by suggesting an outside entity is in charge of which organizations Facebook uses as fact-checkers. But that isn’t true: Who gets to fact-check on Facebook is decided by Facebook. Additionally, reporting has shown that a Facebook executive previously agitated for The Daily Caller’s inclusion in the fact-checking project.
Zuckerberg appeared before the House Financial Services Committee on October 23 to testify about Facebook’s efforts to launch a new cryptocurrency, how Facebook has been used to post ads that violate federal housing discrimination laws, and other topics related to the company. One of those topics was Facebook’s fact-checking project, which has been maligned for its ineffectiveness.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) asked Zuckerberg why a division of The Daily Caller is included in the Facebook fact-checking project given the publication is “well-documented with ties to white supremacists.” Zuckerberg demurred on the question of Facebook’s role, and instead claimed, “We actually don’t appoint the independent fact-checkers, they go through an independent organization called the Independent Fact-Checking Network that has a rigorous standard for who they allow to serve as a fact-checker.” That is false. Facebook requires its partners to be accredited by the organization, which is actually called the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), but it is Facebook, not IFCN, who decides which organizations Facebook uses in its fact-checking project.
As explained by Vox, “IFCN certification is a necessary condition for partnering with Facebook, but once a site is certified, it’s up to Facebook to decide whether to partner with it. There are currently 62 organizations with IFCN certification globally, but Facebook only partners with six in the United States.”
Judd Legum, who publishes the Popular Information newsletter, asked IFCN about Zuckerberg’s response to Ocasio-Cortez’ question. IFCN Director Baybars Örsek confirmed that Zuckerberg’s claim that IFCN appoints Facebook fact-checkers was false:
Zuckerberg repeated this falsehood during a follow-up question after Ocasio-Cortez asked, “So you would say that white supremacist-tied publications meet a rigorous standard for fact-checking?” Again, Zuckerberg falsely claimed that IFCN, not Facebook, was “assessing that standard” for inclusion in Facebook’s fact-checking project.
In fact, a Facebook executive previously attempted to ensure that The Daily Caller’s fact-checking division, which is called Check Your Fact, was included in Facebook’s fact-checking project. According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook executive and former George W. Bush administration official Joel Kaplan started pushing for it to be included in the summer of 2018. But other executives at Facebook were opposed to its inclusion because of falsehoods promoted by The Daily Caller, and debate over the matter ended when Check Your Fact lost its IFCN accreditation in November 2018. But in April, after Check Your Fact regained its IFCN accreditation, it was named as a Facebook fact-checking partner.
In order to be recertified, Check Your Fact had to comply with disclosure requirements about the source of its funding. That disclosure indicated that Check Your Fact is funded via the bigoted Daily Caller's general operating budget, the website's own ad revenue, and a $100,000 grant from The Daily Caller News Foundation that was provided by the right-wing Searle Freedom Trust foundation.
Zuckerberg’s testimony about the project misled Congress and made clear that he may not even be aware of the basic logistics of how Facebook’s fact-checking operation works.
(Disclosure: In March 2018, Check Your Fact fact-checked a claim that I made about the National Rifle Association, rating the claim “true.”)