Fact Checkers: SOCIAL Media or Social MEDIA?

I remember a time, not so long ago when we all had a friend named Tom. He ran a website that took the world by storm back in the early days of the internet. It was called “Myspace.” It was the granddaddy of all social media sites, and he built the prototype for all those that came after it.

A few years later, our friendship ended. A new, streamlined, smooth interface showed up, and everyone forgot about Tom. Facebook was the new kid on the block back then, and everyone flocked to it. They forgot poor Tom. Tom is still around, in the same place he always was, he just doesn’t have many friends left.

As the years rolled on, Facebook eclipsed the popularity of more than just Tom. It eclipsed everyone. (Well, almost. Google and Youtube are the only exceptions.) Everyone suddenly had a Facebook account. From children to grandparents and Republicans to Democrats, everyone was connected in one place.

We shared memes, funny anecdotes, and favorite recipes. We posted pictures of our kids or pets for our families to see. We shared ideas and debated political issues. Oh, and posted lots of cat videos. Lots of cat videos. We even made ordinary people “Internet famous” for a brief time. Even Tom eventually gave in and joined us.

Then, somewhere along the lines, something changed. The content shifted. It started out as “SOCIAL” Media, but it became Social “MEDIA.”

The social aspect was still there. We still checked up on friends we no longer had regular access to, maybe posted a quick comment, or “Liked” a post here and there, but the “Media” portion seemed to have taken on a life of its own. Media companies bombarded us with products and services, Google searches informed the ads you saw, and politics had gotten out of hand.

As it turns out, Facebook was a great place to argue. You could state your case, and then post links to articles or references that support that argument. There’s no time constraint, allowing you to take as long as you need to find the supporting documentation for your argument. Ideas were flowing freely, and people were getting massive amounts of input from every point of view, with facts and figures to back it all up.

Then, it changed again. The folks that ran the platform suddenly started getting involved in our conversations. Warning labels began to appear on our posts. They warned the reader that this post might contain “Incomplete information,” or “Missing context.” They claimed it was an effort to combat false information from being disseminated to the public.

Soon after, people began to note a pattern. It seemed the labels appeared overwhelmingly on the Republican or Conservative posts. This pattern wasn’t some sort of confirmation bias either, it was consistent enough to catch the attention of most users.

When a contentious election and questionable voting practices surfaced, I noticed that just about every post that supported President Trump got the digital scarlet letter. When Coronavirus hit,  discussions about the new plague were themselves plagued by warning labels.  The overreaching “Fact Checkers” slapped a warning on almost everything.

According to Facebook, fact-checking is achieved through a partnership with independent, third-party companies who constantly review content. They deny any political bias, and thus, by using a third party, conveniently disconnect themselves from scrutiny.

This ambiguity led author, talk show host, and political activist Candice Owens to file suit when her content was incorrectly flagged on social media. Further investigation into Facebook’s fact-checkers has revealed connections to the Chinese. It seems one of the fact-checking companies used by Facebook, named “Lead Stories” is partly paid through a partnership with TikTok.

TikTok is a social media platform owned by a Chinese Company that owes its allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party. The Poynter Institute, another TikTok partner, is charged with overseeing the quality of the fact-checkers. Lead Stories was primarily charged with fact-checking information regarding the Coronavirus, a virus that originated in China and is a touchy subject with the CCP.

So a Chinese company with ties to the CCP was fact-checking the information regarding the Coronavirus that was spread over Facebook to millions of Americans? Right. I’m sure no political agenda was involved. Oh, and that same company also fact-checked a significant amount of “Voter Fraud” posts as well? No reason we should see a conflict of interest here, right?

I wonder what Tom’s up to these days? Facebook wouldn’t mind us visiting an old friend, would they? Now, if I could only remember that password I used back in 2005