Facebook fact-checking group admits it wrongly flagged article criticizing study on masks in schools

Facebook blurred outlet's article, redirected it to erroneous fact-check

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A Facebook fact-checking partner admitted Tuesday it erroneously flagged an article as false that condemned a study which pushed federal health officials to encourage school mask mandates.

Reason senior editor Robby Soave penned an explanation of what happened when a friend attempted to share an article he wrote headlined, "The Study That Convinced the CDC To Support Mask Mandates in Schools Is Junk Science." Facebook blurred the article’s accompanying image and replaced it with a notification that it contained "false information checked by independent fact-checkers," and redirected would-be readers to an official Facebook fact-checking organization called Science Feedback. 

Science Feedback, a Facebook fact-checking organization, admitted Tuesday it erroneously labeled an article condemning a study that pushed the CDC to mandate masks in schools as "false information." (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Science Feedback, a Facebook fact-checking organization, admitted Tuesday it erroneously labeled an article condemning a study that pushed the CDC to mandate masks in schools as "false information." (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

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Science Feedback bills itself as a "worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in science based media coverage" with a goal to "help readers know which news to trust." The Science Feedback article to which Facebook directed people trying to read Soave’s piece declared "masking can help limit transmission" COVID in schools and it was inaccurate to report "there's no science behind masks on kids."

"Since I had never made this claim, it was odd to see it fact-checked. Indeed, the purveyor of false information here was Science Feedback, which had given people the erroneous impression that my article said something other than what I had actually written," Soave wrote, noting that the source for his article was a piece published by The Atlantic’s David Zweig. 

"My claims were not really unique at all; rather, I had summarized impressive, original research performed by Zweig that demonstrated that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had relied on a flawed study to conclude the school mask mandates were beneficial," Soave wrote. 

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Facebook passed blame onto fact-checking partner Science Feedback when approached by Reason. 

Facebook passed blame onto fact-checking partner Science Feedback when approached by Reason.  (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

Indeed, The Atlantic called out the CDC's ongoing guidance urging mask-wearing at schools, suggesting its claim that no masks would triple the risk of COVID outbreaks is "based on very shaky science."

Soave noted, "Neither Zweig's article nor mine makes the claim that masks don't work on kids, or that masks fail to limit transmission in schools. Both addressed a single study that concerned mask mandates."

Soave then reached out to both Facebook and Science Feedback seeking a correction or clarification. 

One of Facebook’s independent fact-checkers erroneously flagged an article headlined, "The Study That Convinced the CDC To Support Mask Mandates in Schools Is Junk Science." 

One of Facebook’s independent fact-checkers erroneously flagged an article headlined, "The Study That Convinced the CDC To Support Mask Mandates in Schools Is Junk Science." 

"We have taken another look at the Reason article and confirm that the rating was applied in error to this article," Science Feedback wrote to Soave. "The flag has been removed. We apologize for the mistake."

Soave asked for more information on the debacle from Facebook communications manager Ayobami Olugbemiga but the social media giant appeared to pass the buck. 

"Thanks for reaching out and appealing directly to Science Feedback," Olugbemiga responded. "As you know, our fact-checking partners independently review and rate content on our apps and are responsible for processing your appeal."

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It's not the first time Science Feedback's fact-checking methodology has come into question. The organization cited Peter Daszak, the scientist whose nonprofit funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, last year as a voice decrying the lab-leak theory for COVID-19.