Facebook’s politician exemption is likely to face more tests

Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

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Facebook defines ‘politician,’ but will it solve the problem?

Facebook’s policy of not subjecting politicians’ statements or ads to third-party fact-checking has riled critics in the United States and abroad – including some of the company’s own employees – who say it lets politicians off the hook in an era when the truth is under siege.

The reason for the policy, the company says, is that Facebook doesn’t think its role is to “censor” politicians, that people should hear directly what they are saying, and the platforms should not be making the call about what people see and hear from those serving or aspiring to serve in office.

The Facebook politician exemption has been in place for as long as the company has had the Third-Party Fact-Checking Program. But until now, one aspect of the policy has not been explicit: What exactly does Facebook mean by “politician”? (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the IFCN code of principles is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for joining the project.)

Now we have an answer to that question, or at least a better idea.

Cristina wrote in a piece for Poynter this morning that Facebook recently added new language to its media publisher help page that provides a definition. Politicians, it says, are “candidates running for office, current office holders – and, by extension, many of their cabinet appointees – along with political parties and their leaders.”

The company told Cristina that it came up with the definition after some fact-checkers expressed concern that they needed more clarity.

Facebook acknowledges that sometimes it will ask fact-checkers to “use their expertise and judgment to determine whether an individual is a politician, like in the case of a part-time elected official.” But some fact-checkers Cristina talked to said the language still leaves a lot of room for judgment calls. This is especially a concern expressed by fact-checkers outside the United States.

But the United States is where Facebook’s policies and definitions will face – and already are facing – their greatest tests.

Some politicians test the waters before they formally decide to run. Would they be covered?

For example, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has filed paperwork in a couple of states but not formally announced his candidacy for president. What about Hillary Clinton? Her statements would be subject to the program, even though she’s clearly a politician but not a candidate this time around. But incumbent politicians’ false statements about her would not be checked.

Some political figures definitely have an agenda, or serve as surrogates for politicians, but aren’t running for anything. So they would subject to the program. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich might be an example. The 2008 vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, recently received a false rating from (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact, so she’s not covered by Facebook’s politician exemption. That fits the definition since she’s not currently running for anything.

Political action committees run ads that benefit candidates. Sometimes their ads don’t even name politicians, but everyone knows who they’re helping. Their falsehoods are subject to the fact-checking program, as was demonstrated when a left-leaning group ran an ad falsely claiming that South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham supported the “Green New Deal.” Lead Stories rated the ad false, and Facebook took it down.

CNN called the episode a test of Facebook’s policies on false ads. It is likely not the last one.

. . .  technology

  • Twitter has released its draft policy on synthetic and manipulated media. Among the potential actions the company will take: appending notices to problematic tweets, warning people before they share or like such posts or adding a link to sources that believe the media were manipulated.
  • Speaking of tech platforms: They are rushing to take steps against misinformation ahead of the U.K.’s snap election.
  • Maria Ressa, Rappler’s CEO, was on “60 Minutes” to talk about her reporting on The Philippines government. Here’s a snippet: “They (the social media platforms) treat a lie the same way you would treat a fact. And the lie that’s incendiary, that is meant to anger you, spreads fastest. All the studies show that. That’s our battle. Without facts, you can’t have the truth.”

. . .  politics

  • Impeachment hearings started in the United States, and PolitiFact will have a dedicated URL for all the fact checks related to this topic.
  • The prime minister of Poland and the Auschwitz Memorial Museum are openly criticizing a new Netflix documentary about the Holocaust. At issue is a map that shows World War II concentration camps within the borders of modern-day Poland, implying that the Polish people were somehow involved, when the country was actually occupied by Nazi Germany at the time. A Netflix spokesperson said the company is “aware of the concerns regarding ‘The Devil Next Door’” and is “urgently looking into the matter.”
  • While in the United States federal courts have ruled that it would be unconstitutional for President Donald Trump to block followers on Twitter, in Brazil, the opposite is about to happen. The General Attorney gave President Jair Bolsonaro a green light to do so by writing a report saying his profile is personal. The Supreme Court will judge the case.

. . .  the future of news

  • The U.S. is exporting anti-vaccination misinformation to Brazil. Vice News reported this week that a single U.S. website, Natural News, accounted for almost a third of anti-vaxx content found on social media and other websites targeting people in Brazil. The study came from the Brazilian Society of Immunizations and Avaaz, a non-profit human rights activist network.
  • “Firehosing” is a strategy anti-vaxxers are using to spread vaccine misinformation on social media, The Guardian reported. It involves “pushing out as many lies as possible as frequently as possible.”
  • Two Stanford researchers are mapping 2020 election misinformation using a model typically used to track infectious diseases.

Separating facts from fiction in Bolivia hasn’t been easy, but ChequeaBolivia and BoliviaVerifica are active and publishing their fact checks.

After days of violent protests and a televised interference of the army, former Bolivian President Evo Morales fled to Mexico and Sen. Jeanine Áñez proclaimed herself the interim president. For 48 hours, the country had no one leading the executive branch — plenty of time to see falsehoods of all kinds spread on social media.

On Tuesday, Bolivians shared photos of armored cars saying that people were cashing money and gold from the country’s Central Bank. That was false, and the bank had to put a statement on Twitter denying it. ChequeaBolivia wrote a detailed fact check (in Spanish) explaining that the images showed a “recurrent money distribution flow.”

The same fact-checking organization also debunked another big hoax just a few hours earlier. It was false that a Bolivian Air Force helicopter was randomly shooting houses. The video that went viral actually showed the Mexican city of Tepic, in February 2017, during a military operation against narcos.

False tweets from and about Evo also provided fact-checkers a lot of work. It’s false that the former president celebrated Áñez as the new head of the government. It’s false that the senator said cities weren’t made for native Indians (like Evo). But it is true that, in May 2016, Evo Morales posted on Twitter the following sentence: “Whoever hides or escapes is a confessed criminal… NOT a persecuted politician.” — in reference to an Argentinian journalist. Bolivia Verifica wrote an article (in Spanish) to explain the context.

What we liked: It doesn’t matter how hard the political situation is — fact-checkers seem to manage a way to get their sources and deliver good information to their people. ChequeaBolivia and Bolivia Verifica are brand new fact-checking initiatives. They are less than a year old and they are already facing a huge amount of pressure. The international fact-checking community is looking at them and, many times, republishing their content, which means they were able to learn fast.

  1. EU DisinfoLab uncovered “a worldwide network of 265 fake media outlets in 65 countries.”
  2. The New York Times visual investigations team is hiring a fellow.
  3. CJR’s Mathew Ingram spoke with Google’s Alexios Mantzarlis (remember him?) about disinformation. He also spoke with Baybars Orsek, director of the IFCN.
  4. The Stanford Internet Observatory published a white paper on Russian influence operations using data released by Facebook.
  5. Experts were on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to speak to lawmakers about disinformation campaigns targeting American veterans.
  6. Some Sri Lankan civil society groups are concerned that misinformation on Facebook will elicit violence before upcoming elections.
  7. Here are some of the biggest fake news stories in the United States so far this year.
  8. The guy who made deepfake videos of Mark Zuckerberg and Kim Kardashian also made one of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
  9. Bloomberg News reported that U.S. presidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren is pledging that if she is elected, corporations that spread misinformation to the public and government regulators would be prosecuted for perjury.
  10. The Telegraph reported that Facebook has been profiting off ads that promote “vaccine alternatives” to parents.

That’s it for this week! Feel free to send feedback and suggestions to factually@poynter.org. And if this email was forwarded to you, you can subscribe here.

Daniel, Susan and Cristina