The left-leaning American news media’s stunning reversal on whether the coronavirus could have been created in a Chinese laboratory is the latest example of the dangers of fact checking.
For most of 2020 the supposed arbiters of truthiness insisted that lab leak stories should not be taken seriously and should be suppressed on social media. Just yesterday Facebook finally lifted is baseless ban of the lab leak theory. The real problem here is not that fact checkers got something wrong, it’s that they have the power to censor what journalism Americans see and consume unilaterally.
Nobody is checking the fact checkers, and it is time that changed. It’s time for government to regulate the fact checking industry.
This may seem antithetical to traditional conservative values of small government, but the ubiquitous and monopolistic nature of social media, the power it has to frame how we see the world, is an existential challenge. We cannot be slaves to orthodoxy if that means Americans are subject not only to lies, but also the censorship of the truth.
The First Amendment rightly renders government powerless to regulate news outlets’ publishing content from their own in house fact checkers -- they are protected by freedom of the press. But third party independent fact checkers are another story entirely. These are entities such as Lead Stories, Politifact, and even the Associated Press that offer their fact checking expertise to social media platforms so the latter can claim they are not making editorial decisions. But that only works if third party fact checkers are operating objectively and without bias. It is quite obvious that this is not the case.
Veteran reporter John Tierney has a piece at City Journal that outlines exactly how one of the most notorious of Facebook’s third party fact checkers, Science Feedback, censored his story on the dangers of masking children despite the fact that he was citing a peer reviewed study. As Tierney put it, "This exercise obviously wasn’t about accuracy. The fact-checkers were actually fact-blockers."
Regulating the fact checking industry would provide much needed accountability to the American people.
On issue after issue from masks, to the origin of the virus, to Hunter Biden’s laptop, and on and on the fact checking industry has not only been consistently wrong, their mistakes all occur in one direction, towards the censorship of conservative ideas.
These are not just accidental mistakes; they are negligence. That negligence hurts conservative outlets financially when their content is suppressed by social media platforms.
This has a chilling effect as outlets must decide whether to present accurate information to the public at the risk of losing money from fraudulent fact checks at the hands of social media’s hired thought police.
So what can be done about this dangerous situation? A new bill before the Michigan House of Representatives is a move in the right direction. The bill would require fact checkers to register with the government and carry insurance to cover payment to those who suffer financial damages as a result of a bogus fact check.
Laws like this can establish simple, uniform practices that fact checkers must abide by to provide fairness in the service they provide.
Regulating the fact checking industry would provide much needed accountability to the American people. Furthermore, regulations that insist uniform standards be applied by third party fact checkers should not be difficult to abide by. It is fact checking after all, not opinion checking, or tone checking, or social responsibility checking.
Facts are supposed to be stubborn. Either an article or post is factual or it isn’t. At the point at which fact checkers are citing lack of context, or concerns about methodology they are no longer fact checking and should not be allowed to claim the service they are selling is doing so.
Regulating the fact checking industry would not be any kind of government censorship of the media; it would not deprive any publishing entity from running a fact check. It would merely ensure that companies which sell their fact checking services are applying objective standards when evaluating material. This is something they should be doing anyway, and is something that they are demonstrably not doing at present.
The American people do not just have to sit back and take it as social media platforms, which provide huge swaths of them with their news, hire censors that lie about what constitutes a fact.
The people, through their elected officials absolutely have a right to ensure that this industry is providing a level playing field. If one was to sell a service in which they weighed produce to set a price it would and should be illegal for them to secretly use different scales depending on the farmer or the type of produce.
Throughout the past year biased fact checking has done irreparable harm to the body politic.
Polling has shown that suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story may well have swung the presidential election.
In regards to the pandemic the constant suppression of factual information that ran counter to pro lockdown narratives cost Americans dearly.
Regulating the fact checking industry would go a long way towards ensuring the American people are never misled in this manner again.
Social media companies want to have it both ways. They insist that they are not publishers and therefore not liable for what appears on their supposedly neutral platforms. But they also insist that it is fine for them to suppress content because a third party fact checker, chosen by the social media company itself, says they should.
This is a shell game in which we all lose.
There is nothing special about fact checkers that protects them from regulations requiring them to be fair and honest in their dealings. Those that refuse to operate objectively should be punished for misrepresenting their service. Only when they have such skin in the game will the American people be able to trust their proclamations on what is and is not a matter of fact.