In court documents, Facebook has admitted that their ‘fact checks’ are merely opinions, as opposed to being factual. The explosive revelation came during the case taken against the social media giant by journalist and television host John Stossel, who is suing Facebook after the company’s ‘fact checkers’ labelled information on climate change posted by Stossel as “false and misleading.”
The fact checkers involved are two of Facebook’s fact-checking partners, Science Feedback and Climate Feedback which are tasked with writing up what they claim are ‘fact checks’ for articles, news stories and videos on the platform. Stossel accuses the entities of defaming him.
Stossel posted two videos to Facebook, one of which reported on the forest fires in California in 2020, including an interview with expert, Michael Schellenberger. In the video, Stossel said that climate change has worsened things in the state, while Schellenberger said although climate change played a role, mismanaged forests were the primary reason for the devastating fires.
Facebook placed a label over the video, informing users that it was “missing context.” If users did click through, a page from Climate Feedback’s website appeared that stated: ““Claim – ‘forest fires are caused by poor management. Not by climate change.” and “Verdict: misleading.”
The lawsuit disputes this, stating that this claim is “contained nowhere in” Stossel’s video. Stossel said that while he reached out to Climate Feedback for and didn’t get a response, two of the scientists listed as the group’s reviewers admitted they had not actually reviewed the video. A second video which explored “environmental alarmists” was subject to a similar process carried out by Facebook’s designated ‘fact checkers.’
Slamming the fact-checking process, Stossel said it “is nothing more than a pretext used by defendants to defame users with impunity, particularly when defendants disagree with the scientific opinions expressed in user content.”
On its website, Climate Feedback states: “Climate Feedback is a worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage. Our goal is to help readers know which news to trust.”
But now Facebook appears to have dismantled the “fact check” claim as the world watches the ongoing court case unfold.
Responding to Stossel’s defamation claims, Facebook writes on Page 2, Line 8 of its court submission that Facebook cannot be sued for defamation (by definition, making a false and harmful assertion) because it’s ‘fact checks’ are mere statements of opinion rather than factual assertions.
Opinions are not subject to claims of defamation, but false assertions of fact can be subject to defamation. Regarding the fact checks, Facebook writes: “The labels themselves are neither false nor defamatory; to the contrary, they constitute protected opinion.”
The argument put forward by Facebook in their own legal filing in a court of law is an admission that its ‘fact checks’ are not truly ‘fact’ checks, but rather ‘opinion assertions.’
The information contained in the documents has raised concerns that the ‘fact checking’ engaged in by entities such as Facebook and the ‘fact checkers’ they use, Climate Feedback and PolitFact, is biased in nature rather than objective.
Commenting on the disclosure, Anthony Watts of ‘Watts up with that,’ a climate blog at odds with the views promoted by Climate Feedback, (who Watts describes as “climate zealots,”) said that the so-called “fact checks” have now been exposed as an “agenda to suppress free speech” under the guise of neutrality.
“Such “fact checks” are now shown to be simply an agenda to suppress free speech and the open discussion of science by disguising liberal media activism as something supposedly factual, noble, neutral, trustworthy, and based on science. It is none of those,” Watts said.
The case was filed in federal court in California. Lawyers for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, urged the court to dismiss the case when they responded to the filing in late November.
Meta claimed its fact-checkers are independent from Facebook and that it is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.