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Oct. 4, 2019, 10:14 a.m.
Audience & Social

Facebook is opening up a fact-checking loophole for satire creators. Hope all their motives are good!

Plus: All those researchers who were supposed to get Facebook disinformation data will have to wait a bit longer.

The growing stream of reporting on and data about fake news, misinformation, partisan content, and news literacy is hard to keep up with. This weekly roundup offers the highlights of what you might have missed.

Come on, it’s just satire! Creators of damaging fake news have long sought cover under the claim that what they’re doing is “just satire” — whether or not the readers/sharers of said articles are aware that what they’re reading is supposed to be a joke or not. (They often aren’t.) Now Facebook is making it a little easier for the, um, creators by deciding that opinion and satire will be exempt from fact-checking on the platform. The news, reported by The Wall Street Journal, comes about a week after Facebook said that politicians won’t be fact-checked.

From the Journal:

As part of the new rules, Facebook will allow publishers of information found to be false by outside fact-checkers to appeal to the company, said the people familiar with the changes. Posts that Facebook deems to be either opinion or satire won’t be labeled as false even if they contain information the fact-checkers determined was inaccurate, the people said. […]

The rules, which haven’t been announced, coincide with Facebook’s decision last week to remove a false designation from a Washington Examiner opinion piece, overriding the conclusion of one of its fact-check partners. That op-ed argued that global-warming climate models have been inaccurate and that the risks of climate change is overblown.

The removal of the false label was celebrated by the CO2 Coalition, which employs the op-ed’s authors and argued in a letter to Facebook that the company had “used a partisan fact-check group to defame them.” The group, which receives funding from the oil-and-gas industry, dismisses global warming as a hoax and advocates for the “important contribution made by carbon dioxide to our lives and the economy.”

(You may remember CO2 Coalition founder and director William Happer as the man who said “the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.” Until last month, Happer was also the top climate advisor in the Trump White House.)

I haven’t seen an official comment or response from Facebook about this yet.

While we’re busy criticizing Facebook: It’s fallen behind on its promises to share disinformation data with academics, after promising to do so in April 2018. As we reported at the time, this was the plan:

The research, which Facebook says will be released publicly and will not be subject to approval by Facebook, is funded through the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Charles Koch Foundation, Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and Omidyar Network. […]

The committee of scholars involved will be “international” and represent “different political outlooks.” Facebook will invite scholars based on input from the foundations funding this research committee, and that committee will solicit, evaluate, and set research topics. The research will go through a peer review process, which the Social Science Research Council is helping with. Proposals must pass university Institutional Review Board (or “an international equivalent”) review.

The chosen projects were announced in August, with topics ranging from “problematic sharing behavior” to “the demographics of the sharing of hyperpartisan news in Brazil.” But, as the Times reported this week (and as was previously reported by BuzzFeed), the initiative has been slow to get off the ground in part “because Facebook says it has struggled to share the information while also protecting its users’ privacy.” The data that is ultimately shared will also reportedly be more limited than originally intended, and, the Times says, “seven nonprofit groups that have helped finance the research efforts, including the Knight Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation, have even threatened to end their involvement.”

“I think the only way to feel reasonably confident about this project is if you ignore what’s happened over the past 16 months. If you step back and look where we started and where we are, it’s a pretty big step down,” a source told BuzzFeed in August, adding, “I think they are concerned about opening a Pandora’s box.”

First Draft updates. First Draft is monitoring the fake news swirling around Brexit, as the October 31 deadline for Britain to withdraw from the EU draws near. First Draft is also now sending out daily and weekly disinformation briefings — originally a resource for staff, they’re now being made public. You can subscribe here.

Illustration from L.M. Glackens’ The Yellow Press (1910) via The Public Domain Review, with special thanks to Bill Adair.

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     Oct. 4, 2019, 10:14 a.m.
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