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REPORT: Row Over Abortion, Climate Change Spurs Facebook To Exempt Opinion, Advocacy From Fact Checks

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Facebook is set to exempt opinion content and political advocacy organizations from the social media giant’s independent fact-checking efforts, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing anonymous sources.

The company will also let groups whose information has been fact-checked as false appeal to Facebook, the sources told TheWSJ, adjusting previous operating procedure that restricted brands and individuals to appealing directly to fact-checkers. Opinion and satire content won’t be labeled as false even if they contain information fact-checkers say is inaccurate or misleading, the report noted.

Facebook’s change of heart came amid recent spats over a Washington Examiner op-ed on climate change and a Live Action video on abortion.

WSJ’s report came just after reporters said Facebook’s Sept. 25 decision to exempt politicians like President Donald Trump from a fact-checker’s gavel will likely turn social media into a cauldron of misinformation. (RELATED: Journalists React After Facebook Decided To Exempt Politicians From Fact-Checking)

Controversy around the program has hit a fever pitch recently. The Daily Caller News Foundation reported Sept. 24 that Facebook removed a false label on a Washington Examiner editorial published in August that expresses skepticism about the effectiveness of climate models.

A picture taken on August 28, 2019 shows the logo of US online social media and social networking service, Facebook displayed on a tablet in Lille. (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP) (Photo credit should read DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images)

The authors of the Washington Examiner piece — scientists Caleb Rossiter and Patrick Michaels — told CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Sept. 10 letter that the fact check was done in a partisan fashion. They said in the letter that Facebook used a partisan fact-check group, Climate Feedback, to defame them.

Michaels and Rossiter are senior members of Co2 Coalition, a Virginia-based group of 50 climate scientists who use research to explain why they believe people should not be alarmed by the rise in carbon dioxide.

Climate Feedback’s review is “replete with errors and simple differences of opinion,” the two wrote to Zuckerberg. The editorial suggested a variety of serious issues in choice of climate data sets often lead researchers to believe global temperatures are rising more than is observed.

Rossiter noted that some of his group’s content is still being suppressed.

“While I applaud Facebook’s change of policy, it doesn’t seem to be following those rules yet. Some users of our Facebook page have also been prevented from sharing other posts we have made,” he told the DCNF before presenting a screenshot of one of his page’s with a label attached to it.

Other editorials have gotten wrapped up in the fact-check kerfuffle. The tech company was criticized after an Aug. 30 fact check, published in Health Feedback, targeted an Aug. 9 video from anti-abortion group Live Action that included the statement “abortion is never medically necessary.”

Dr. Jennifer Gunter is listed in an updated version of the fact check’s “Read More” section.

Gunter, who wrote a book called “The Vagina Bible,” has openly criticized Live Action and its founder Lila Rose on Twitter, calling Rose on Aug. 31 “a forced birther who knows nothing about medical care.”

Zuckerberg acknowledged in a Sept. 19 discussion with Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, that the fact check of Live Action was done in a biased way, Hawley said.

The decision to exempt editorials also comes as Facebook faces pressure from the media and activists to limit the distribution of misinformation.

“I know Facebook doesn’t want to be in the middle of this, but here they are,” Angie Drobnic Holan, PolitiFact’s editor, told reporters. She is on the board of the International Fact-Checking Network, which approves fact-checking groups as reputable.

“There are cases where the line between fact and opinion are not as bright as you might think,” Holan added. Facebook has not responded to the DCNF’s request to confirm TheWSJ’s report.

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