On Monday, a Facebook “fact-checker” who was hired by the media rated a video that was shared on Glenn Beck’s facebook page as “false,” and penalized his page. Although the rating was eventually removed, here’s why the story still matters.
No entity in the history of the world — whether government or private entity — has ever been as influential in controlling the spread of information as Facebook currently is. Facebook currently boasts about 2.5 billion users, meaning that over 25% of the world’s total population is on Facebook. With more and more people turning off their televisions, more people than ever before have their news filtered through a single source: What shows up in their Facebook feed.
In response to widespread criticism from liberals about their alleged failure to stop Russian disinformation during the 2016 presidential election, Facebook decided to hire allegedly unbiased fact-checkers to rate certain articles as “true” or “false” for the purpose of flagging them for people who read them. These fact-checkers tend overwhelmingly to be legacy media “journalists” — the same people who have so covered themselves in glory that they are now among the least trusted institutions in the world.
Facebook’s current system is fatally flawed in a number of ways, but the two most important are these: First, if one of their so-called fact-checkers is wrong, Facebook does not accept appeals from the fact-checker’s decision.
The second major error in the process is that once one of these so-called fact-checkers dings an article that’s been shared on your page, your entire page gets penalized for weeks — which has tremendous negative financial and business consequences for any company that distributes news. It is a remarkably effective stick, and it is often wielded unfairly.
And so we come to the ongoing search for the origins of the coronavirus. On Monday, this video was shared on Glenn Beck’s Facebook page. I want to encourage you all to watch the whole thing and listen carefully. In the first place, everything Glenn says in it is a fact, and he has the receipts. Second, listen to whether Glenn states or implies that the coronavirus was engineered in a virology lab in Wuhan.
[embedded content] CORONAVIRUS NOT FROM A BAT: Scientists in China Release Study Blaming WUHAN LAB for Pandemic www.youtube.com
In case you don’t have the time to watch the video, I will quote directly from the introduction to the video. In it, Glenn explicitly says, “Experts have already said that this virus was not engineered. But I didn’t say it was. What if the coronavirus was collected from a bat and then taken to this lab for study? Is there any evidence at all that researchers from Wuhan have been collecting bats — specifically the horseshoe bat — because it might be worth looking into?”
Get it? The video explicitly states (and goes on at some length to examine) the possibility — which is rapidly becoming a probability — that Chinese scientists collected the virus from bats in nature and studied it in this lab, whereupon it infected one of their workers due to shoddy controls and thus spread to the general public and the world.
You can probably guess what happened next. Facebook rated the post where we shared Glenn’s video as false based on this asinine fact-check from USA Today reporter Molly Stellino. According to her own online resume, Stellino has absolutely no education or experience in virology, immunology, or any other scientific field that would allow her to claim any expertise over any other person who is trying to research the origins of the coronavirus.
Moreover, her fact-check does not refer to Glenn’s video at all, or quote from it, or explain what about it is allegedly wrong or false. It instead cites other people (including Rush Limbaugh) who have supposedly claimed or implied that the virus was engineered by the Chinese government as a biological weapon. However, Glenn’s video — which made no such claim — has also been dinged by this fact-check and rated “false,” which has negatively impacted our Facebook reach and thus our ability to get news out to people who want to get news from Glenn and the rest of the crew at BlazeTV.
As an aside, even if Glenn had made such a claim or an implication, neither Stellino nor anyone else would be in any position at this point to call such a claim false. Her fact-check claims that there is “overwhelming scientific evidence” that the virus originated in nature. This is a questionable claim in and of itself, but even if it were true beyond the shadow of a doubt, it does not rule out the rather obvious possibility that Chinese scientists found the virus in nature and were studying it with an eye toward the possibility of one day weaponizing it. Neither Stellino nor anyone else knows what was going on in that lab or what, specifically, they were attempting to do with COVID-19 as they studied it.
It is even more obvious that there is absolutely no basis to rate as false the claim that the virus was found in nature and brought back to the lab in question to be studied for research purposes, which is not only what Glenn claimed, but what the United States government is increasingly certain actually happened.
In any event, the effect of Facebook’s so-called “fact-check” is evident, and it is to shut down the sharing of articles questioning the official Chinese narrative that the coronavirus originated from a wet market in Wuhan — a wet market that we now know did not sell bats. In fact, when news broke Wednesday in the noted right-wing conspiracy newspaper the Washington Post that State Department cables from 2018 warned about security and lax procedures at the very laboratory in question, it sparked internal discussion about whether our coverage of the cable could even be shared on Facebook because it might cause our page to get penalized and thus reduce the reach of the rest of our articles.
For days, we had to decide if reporting on the increasing trail of facts tracing this virus back to the Wuhan lab was worth being penalized by Facebook for reporting the truth.
By all admission, as of the date of this article (and the date of Glenn’s video, in particular), the facts concerning the origin of COVID-19 are completely unknown. Literally everyone — including the people cited by the USA Today fact-check — admits that there are no conclusive facts, only theories. So, in the absence of facts, how can there be a “fact-check”? The simple, honest answer is that there can’t, there can only be competing theories (and it looks, right now, that the “escaped from a virology lab” theory is kicking the “bat soup from a wet market” theory square in the buttocks in the “weight of the evidence” category).
But in the American media, there are no shortage of people who will carry water for any entity, no matter how loathsome, as long as the only people questioning them are the icky conservatives.
And now, Facebook has contracted with a huge chunk of those people.
Which is how they find themselves carrying water for the mighty Chinese propaganda machine.