May 6, 2021

Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and misinformation from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network. Sign up here to receive it on your email every Thursday.

A check on power

The Facebook Oversight Board’s decision to uphold former President Donald Trump’s ban inspired calls from the fact-checking community to lift the platform’s prohibition on fact-checking posts from politicians.

“IMO, Facebook has to remove the exemption for politicians or they risk Trump (or others) filing to run for office solely for the purpose of publishing unfiltered on Facebook,” tweeted PolitiFact executive director Aaron Sharockman. He predicted Facebook would make this change and allow fact-checkers to rate a politician’s posts, but without the reduced distribution that Facebook sometimes puts in place for other fact-checked content.

Ana Brakus, managing editor at the Croatian fact-checking organization, agreed that fact-checkers should be allowed to fact-check politicians and echoed the Oversight Board’s point about a lack of clear standards.

“I feel that … they should have a much clearer policy, and that they should have a much, much stronger staffing in terms of moderating,” Brakus said. “And it shouldn’t only be fact-checkers.”

She said fact-checkers can be a part of the solution, but for these policies to work, Facebook needs a strong international team of experts with the sole focus of moderating and enforcing these policy issues.

“We can’t be fact-checkers and translators and everything else that they need,” Brakus said. “We do need certain inputs in our work, but I think that would be too much to put on fact-checkers.”

Lucas Graves, a misinformation researcher and associate professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the decision brings to mind numerous studies showing the outsized impact of politicians on misinformation narratives.

“There’s evidence here to back that up, that circulation of misinformation on social media is much less consequential without the reach of public figures to amplify it,” Graves said. “Both in terms of its reach on social media, and media channels, and in terms of its political effects.”

He added that political leaders like Trump can create a “climate of doubt” that enables long existing falsehoods and narrative tropes to reemerge and gain prominence.

“It’s not just a question of amplification. It’s the question of making it relevant to new political contexts helping to translate it for a given moment,” Graves said. He used long-held suspicions about political elites as just one example of a narrative that politicians like Trump can amplify.

Interesting fact-checks

By Brook Robinson/ Shutterstock

  • Full Fact “BBC wrong to say puppies died of Covid-19” (in English)
    • A BBC headline gave the misleading impression that cramped conditions led to the deaths of a truckload of about 100 puppies from COVID-19. The puppies had actually contracted a dog coronavirus which, while in the same family as COVID-19, is not the same virus.

Quick hits

AP Photo/Vincent Yu

From the news: 

From/for the community: 

Events and training

  • May 6The Trump Takedown: An Online Discussion With Members of the Facebook Oversight Board: The Stanford Cyber Policy Center is hosting a panel featuring members of the Facebook Oversight Board to discuss the group’s decision to uphold Facebook’s deplatforming of former President Donald Trump. Sign up here.
  • May 12IFCN Talks #5: Proactively incorporating public health knowledge into fact-checking: co-founder Kathleen Hall Jamieson will expand on her new model of fact-checking that focuses more on proactively preempting falsehoods with explanatory content Sign up here.
  • May 10-13The United Facts of America Festival: PolitiFact’s week-long celebration of fact-checking will include 10-hours of programming featuring speakers Christiane Amanpour, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, CNN’s Brian Stelter, and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner. Get tickets here.

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Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. He previously worked in Arizona and Washington D.C. for…
Harrison Mantas

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