An investigation by Sky News Australia into bias shown by Facebook’s ‘fact-checkers’ has revealed that one of the leading academics assessing who can become a fact-checker for the online platform, Prof Margot Susca, is a liberal activist. She also signed-off on the Irish platform, TheJournal.ie, becoming a supposedly unbiased checker of facts for the platform.
Digital Editor for Sky News Australia, Jack Houghton explained that tech giants like Facebook are now using supposedly ‘independent’ fact-checkers to justify censoring news and opinion – and that these fact-checkers are given extraordinary powers, even as far as banning news platforms, because they are meant to be unbiased and non-partisan.
However, Houghton explained, liberal activists are not only operating the ‘fact-check’ system, but have positions of power where they have the right to certify allies as other fact-checkers.
One such activist, Sky reveals, is American University School of Communication professor Margot Susca, who has been responsible for issuing 19 fact-check licenses for the International Fact-Checking Network – including an assessment of the Irish platform, TheJournal.ie.
The International Fact-Checking Network is used by Facebook to hire platforms and organisations like The Journal to decide what is and what isn’t fake news. They are supposed to adopt methodology to ensure valid fact-checking and show they are unbiased and non-partisan in working towards tackling misinformation.
However, Susca was regularly outspokenly partisan in her opinions – which are, predictably, firmly on the liberal side of the political fence.
According to Sky News, Prof Susca was publicly critical of Donald Trump and tweeted that it would be a “dereliction of duty” to broadcast his speeches. She also bragged about being on “team” Hillary Clinton: .
“My boyfriend was her nuclear policy fellow for a year when she was in the Senate,” she wrote.
“Says she’s the smartest, wittiest, most likeable person. It just never came through I guess. So Fucking sad.”
Ms Susca also retweeted content that said: “A projected Joe Biden Win won’t erase the racism shown by Donald Trump and embraced by nearly half of the country’s electorate,” Sky reported.
Houghton was sharply critical of Facebook’s handling of the fact-checker system, saying Zuckerberg needed to rehaul the program, as it was hiding behind ‘biased third-party fact-checkers’ who were accountable to no-one.
TheJournal.ie – assessed as a fact-checker for Facebook by Prof Susca, has come under fire from conservatives and other commentators in Ireland for its fact-checks – including one extraordinary episode which saw the platform rewrite its OWN findings to suit pro-abortion arguments – and for failing to check facts in its own reporting.
In October, Gript Editor, John McGuirk, reviewed The Journal’s fact-check of an advertisement opposing the Government’s policy in relation to Covid-19 restrictions on business, socialising, and free movement. He found it ‘staggeringly dishonest’
During the 2018 abortion referendum, the The Journal rewrote and altered its own previously published fact-check in relation to Down Syndrome and abortion – and it did not signpost the rewrite in the amended fact-check – somethings that goes against best practice.
“Its an indisputable fact, confirmed by the National Cytogenic Down Syndrome Register, that 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted in Britain. This fact has been widely reported by leading media organisations,” the Life Institute said in a review.
“But The Journal, who had previously rated our material stating this fact as ‘Mostly True’, changed their own fact-check during the referendum, to rate the same claim as ‘False’ – although nothing in the facts under examination had changed.”
The platform also recently quoted Donald Trump as having said something awful without evidence that he had, in fact, said it. But more seriously, it was one of many Irish media outlets which republished a story suggesting male teachers in Carlow were distracted by female pupils in tight leggings – a story later shown to be false, and which was published across almost every media platform in the country without even a basic check of the facts.
What the Sky News editor said in regard to Facebook’s so-called ‘fact-checkers’ also applies to this country. The people deciding what we can and can’t read on Facebook are neither independent nor unbiased.