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Open letter from the BMJ to Mark Zuckerberg (bmj.com)
1599 points by DrHilarius on Dec 17, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 644 comments

In addition to the points raised by BMJ and in the comments below, there is a limit to what independent fact checking can accomplish. For example, are their fact checkers conducting their own scientific experiments validating claims and outcomes of a scientific paper? Are fact checkers reaching out to sources from a news article and verifying quoted information? When “breaking news” or “scoops” are reported presenting totally new information about the world, how can that be verified against other information that - by virtue of something being new - cannot be verified by other preexisting sources?

If the fact checking process is limited to verification based on other information that is currently available, and if the fact checking process cannot distinguish between factual information and the opinions people hold as a result of that information, the outcome will be an inevitable echo chamber that reinforces currently dominant views or whatever preexisting biases are present.

In short, fact checking is hard and there is a reason why reputable publishing outlets have their own internal fact verification processes before something gets published (including safeguards and retractions, because they make mistakes too), and why news is separated out from opinion-editorial pages... even if it is in style to add opinions (read: “perspective”) to every article.

I don't know in your country, but in Spain most fact-checkers have very evident ties with two political parties, and they handle info in an agenda-setting style. They even have very personal links to politicians.

Of course they really polish their communication and websites, and they know how to sound scientific-y throwing in some graphs and stuff.

The problem is not only that, but that the same people who works in the media churning BS articles is the people who works in the fact checkers, and most of them are journalists, AKA experts in nothing that pretend to become experts with a few calls and some google-fu.

The reality, at least in Spain, is that fact checkers are just a side-effect of the kulturwars and don't bring any truth to the table.

This specially evident when they talk about something you really know about.

Of course, because fact-checkers happen to be lefty because of the, let's call, overton-window cycle, then the left choses to ignore this problems and just says it's the right-wingers that chose to ignore facts and yadda yadda.

While this is going on, right-wing, and many times right-wing extremist views, become the new punk and many yougsters are flocking to provide new blood to said ideologies.

It's all just so tiresome.

> but in Spain most fact-checkers have very evident ties with two political parties, and they handle info in an agenda-setting style.

It's the same thing in Romania, they strongly monitor and criticise those politicians and public figures who are not europhiles while pretty much ignoring those politicians who are for stronger EU integration and for more power for international institutions and their viewpoints inside of Romania.

Yes, political censorship is often called "fact checking". Facebook invented nothing new, and the sin is them trying to convince us otherwise. The increased censorship has been demanded by the Democrats, and Facebook is obeying.

I'm French, live in China, so familiar from both countries with what you say.

But I think I disagree a bit with your annoyance with agenda setting and journalist incestuous relationship with ideology or politics.

Look I dont know how you're taught in Spain but in France we gave up neutral journalism centuries ago. Each newspaper is clearly categorized and we learn as children, around 7 IIRC all the links (le monde socialist, le figaro gaulist trending christian, l'humanité communist, and so on and there are many more subtle variations too French to list here) and learn to read them all, sometimes with clenched fist, but no truth has ever been reveled by a single perspective: embrace the chaos and join perspective to build a multi facet view.

It's something I despair to see in China where politicians, journalist and the mass try to identify a pure source of truth. But no communist think like another, so even their way will never work.

Let them all fight, balance out the arguments, take a decision in the voting booth and stop dreaming of a universal truth given to you from greater mind: even a genius in his lab building a life saving cure will forget to listen to the victims of the sacrifices he requires for the greater good, and that voice must be heard too.

Fight for MORE ideology and agenda in media in exchange for editorial transparency about it, so you're clear who they propose you to vote for when they present an argument, and you'll be free. Any other way, and it goes with fact checking semi anonymous facebook crap, is doomed to muddy this clarity. That s what facebook must do: what is the political party or alignment behind each piece, and you're done (or almost: also need to learn to read and understand all perspectives, the hardest part in the US it seems).

Being aware of biases is difficult in an attention-starved society, where specific opinions and confirmation biased news reports are pumped to social media with a Denial-of-Service-like frequency. Tribes have formed. We've gotten to a highly polarized society where every answer begins with "But they...". The most hardcore partisans I know follow and share news to essentially keep up with and mock what "They" are up to. I particularly avoid discussing politics with family and friends. I've started to tell my family and friends that there is no "They". There are only individuals. I'm also fairly convinced that roughly 5% of the population is insane, although the more political you become, you start to believe that number is closer to 50%.

I share that opinion (and hope) that a minority of the population is insane. However why does it feel like said insane are running the asylum.

Because insane (or angry, or radicalised) people are far more likely to vote or express political statements.

I see your point, but two objections.

- Nuanced opinions and good information is rarely free, be it in monetary terms, be it in the invested time, relationships, etc. Thus, if you're not planning to give up most of your time for any topic, you better find good proxies. And currently the press provides more noise than signal. This is problematic.

- If you know anything about Spain is that it's basically Game of Thrones made a country. There's so much internal conflict that it even gets translated INSIDE of the newspapers and TV. You can't take any editorial line for granted, because it's more tied to a group of people seeking power than any background ideology or anything similar. So your balance different views style it's not really that practical in Spain.

In fact I can tell you about an Issue where I'm invested that it's awful across the board: Housing policy.

I agree in principle but you're missing a small point: journalists are not proxies to the truth, they are proxies to a perspective.

You should NEVER read an article to learn about an absolute reality, but to understand the arguments on a complex issue by a small group of stakeholders, by no mean guardians of reality interpretation.

If you accept that sad fact of life, that we cant know who's right on anything not spawned directly from physical reality (and even then...), then you can embrace journalistic diversity and read several.

I can give you an example close to me in China: there is a debate to have on Tiananmen: the reaction by the communist was certainly aggressive, but there are nuances. The movement failed to accept several compromises because it grew so big nobody could be delegated to represent it officially and they got stuck on successive waves of negociation that could have ended with progress. The army itself struggled and had to recall a first wave who fraternized with the movement to then lie to a second wave who thought they were crushing a rebellion they misunderstood, which probably made the massacre more violent than it could have been. I think the communists were trapped just as much as the movement into an impasse that led to a massacre they didnt enjoy having to commit. They're not evil per se in that regard: they could not see at the time any alternative.

That's my perspective, it's probably hard to read, but I built this complex opinion by reading beyond my comfort zone. I could be wrong and must continue to listen, but you see how this probably cant appear if you just read one side ? And where China is wrong imo is they refuse to discuss it openly in those terms. If a French immigrant raised in the fear of communism can accept to tolerate their side, what are they so scared of ? Throw perspectives at people and they ll figure someth out.

> You can't take any editorial line for granted, because it's more tied to a group of people seeking power than any background ideology or anything similar.

I don't mean to misrepresent the parent's argument, but I think they would demand the same solution of editorial transparency towards the groups of people seeking power you mention. That said, I might be coming from a place of ignorance here.

That would be a hard thing to achieve, given that we are talking about unnamed, unidentifiable groups.

What GP meant about Spain being similar to GoT, is that there’s a lot of shifting alliances and moving pieces in the background.

You might think channel A has ties to party B, and thus you can asume that they are softening the blow if they’re reporting bad news about B, but Spain has more than two parties (for now), and maybe channel A is actually exaggerating because it would put party C in a good position to sway votes from the opposition while not taking votes from yourself.

As an US equivalent if a third political party had a 10-15% of the votes, you’d see Fox reporting in a way that tried to sway democrats to the third party.

Since in Spain the way seats in congress are allocated benefits parties with bigger percentages, this strategy is possible.

It's even worse than that. Groups inside the National Police do conspire against each other (I think there may be at least three of them) + Center of National Intelligence.

The same happens in the IRS Equivalent, and other institutions, like autonomous comminites (~ US States).

I mean, I'm talking about real plots here, like managing media influence, trying to put people in jail, and all the ingredients for a Netflix series.

It's basically impossible to keep track of it, even for a politics nerd like me.

I'm not really sure I understand what you mean, sorry. Who would demand what? What's "editorial transparency"?

In France we mean by that that all newspaper have a public well accepted stance on the political spectrum, with candidates they push without hiding and ideologies they maintain.

As long as their leaders and famous journalists are clear they're a perspective and not "the truth", I m fine with the communists fighting the nationalists in their respective newspapers even if I disagree with what I read. At least I know what and why they think these things and I can sometimes accept an argument if only to build an iterative counter argument myself.

The difference I saw with facebook even in France, is that it's all blurred. I cant cross the Figaro with the Monde to figure two of the sides of an issue, now I receive some neutral looking information with a vague source. It struck me when a colleague started repeating an horrendous story and we investigated together to realize she was sourcing it from a facebook post by our "the onion" equivalent !!! She couldnt see the source because it's too blurry in between her grandma rants and some cnn-style generic information.

It doesnt change that in the US I see with worry that even when lines are clear, the debate is heated. Also because there's no spectrum but just two solutions to any issue: democrat and republican. What was hailed as a miracle in democracy (just 2 fuzzy groups of dispationate interest) is starting to look like a weakness (to the death identity conflicts pushed by their respective extremes) while with 13 parties in elections in France, you can express nuances.

> we investigated together to realize she was sourcing it from a facebook post by our "the onion" equivalent !!!

The chained duck? (I prefer mine au confit, not enchainé.)

I think the biggest issue issue is FPTP. You need mixed representation to allow expression of a broader range of ideas imo

> even a genius in his lab building a life saving cure will forget to listen to the victims of the sacrifices he requires for the greater good

As a nerd in a building trying to build things to save lives from disease (“cure” is too strong a word), there are explicit ethics reviews my work has to go through, with an almost bizarre frequency, so I disagree with this statement specifically. Otherwise, I enjoyed your comment.

For us to grow beyond entrenched binaries takes self awareness. Could you perhaps see how another doctor who hs caused harm before may have believed they were truly only doing good - and this could have been enabled by them being barraged with ethics reviews? "What do you mean i caused harm i have to do all these things to prove that i dont do harm" Meanwhile history shows clearly the sacrifices that were taken.

> even a genius ... will forget to listen to the victims of the sacrifices he requires for the greater good, and that voice must be heard too

How do you know someone is a leftist? He will show you his fascist nature.

I love what you wrote here, a well written and fascinating take!

One thing though, do french people actually read several different newspapers on different sides? My preconceived notion is that they still just pick one to get their main source of news, even though they might be aware of the others.

And a second thought. If we can agree that there is sometimes truth to be found in what happened, what convinces you that summing up falsehoods from the left and falsehoods from the right will equate to the truth? (I've heard from some people that they "read all sides" but I haven't noticed their perspective being better in any obvious ways)

For example: vaccines don't have side effects, don't worry about it, and we need to get everyone vaccinated so we should force them (left) VS vaccines are alright but seems like they're dangerous and fuck the government so they shouldn't force people to do that (right). The sum of the two doesn't really teach you the truth, but highlights the direct contradictions while giving you the impression that you have to pick one side of another (the US is super bipartisan, not like France which at least has several different parties with different opinions).

The truth here is: vaccines reduce likelihood of bad symptoms, gestation time and viral load, which in turn reduces chances of spreading and therefore chance of mutation which is a feared unknown (hello Omicron), some vaccines do seem to cause issues with younger folks (20-29 years old can get myocarditis) so we should be careful, but all in all, we don't have a better way to fix this situation than getting a lot of folks vaccinated.

It's one thing to embrace diversity of opinion. However recently in the USA some right wing outlets have become nothing short of 50% straight lies and right-wing propaganda mixed in with some small amount of truthful reporting. See Newsmax or OANN which are mostly lies and Fox which is a strange mix of normal news and "opinion news" that often also full of lies but not as often as the others.

So what? Honestly, I don't understand the direction of your point.

Is it Don't have opinion diversity? Control what people hear and believe? Don't allow (what you consider to be) lies? There are so many responses to each of these.

I would argue that hyper partisan outlets like Fox which don't even care to try to be truthful has exacerbated tribal nature of US politics and reduced its ability to actually have any meaningful competition of ideas. Sure, having a perspective or ideology is fine but I think out and out lying should have consequences. I think you need a regulator preventing misinformation. Beyond that, having a point of view - which you can back up with reasonable argument - is to be desired.

> you need a regulator preventing misinformation

Who would be the regulator? How would the regulator be chosen? How would information be determined to be misinformation? When something truthful is named misinformation, what happens? When a political group accuses this regulator of suppression, what then? When your political opposition gains control of the regulator, what then? How would this regulator also comply with the US Constitution, particular its free speech guarantees?

And now you are coming to the understanding that the first amendment is being weaponized against us. They're hacking our minds through emotions (especially anger) and imagery to further their funders corporate goals. I see no solution but having some regulation. They can be sued in the legal system for defamation, why not start with that as the bare minimum of conduct when reporting the news?

I actually like this idea of a status quo; but it depends on teaching children this from birth. In the US, I was taught that NYT and CNN are reputable and reliable sources of the truth. As an adult, I find them "pretty good" at best.

> most of them are journalists, AKA experts in nothing that pretend to become experts with a few calls and some google-fu.

Isn’t this a bit much? This seems very baited and/or flame-war inducing. It’s denigrating towards an entire profession/discipline. I’d almost go so far as to say that this misunderstanding about journalism is at the root of a lot of problems in modern media for both practicing journalists (which I understand may in some ways be your larger point) and consumers of journalism today. Journalism should be about creating an objective conduit for civic impetus. I don’t believe it is fair to say this doesn’t require expertise.

> Isn’t this a bit much? This seems very baited and/or flame-war inducing.

And yet I think it’s pretty obvious journalism is not about truth anymore. Gawker might be dead, but the Gawker style of “journalism” is well alive.

You don’t even need to dig that deep to see something is rotten, the two biggest news channels in the US spend the day saying the opposite of one another.

I don’t disagree with this. I even like the way you put journalism in quotation marks. I (and apparently their legal representatives in many cases) consider those news stations you mentioned to be more entertainment than journalism. Put another way, the point of my original comment was that good journalists make mistakes too, but that shouldn’t mean anyone can be a journalist or there is no expertise required to do so. It should mean the opposite. What I’m beginning to take away from this and some of my other replies is that it’s become practically impossible to tell the good, bad, and poser journalists apart. I just don’t want that to mean that we devalue journalism as a whole.

> Isn’t this a bit much?

Given the state of American journalism, it is if anything overly kind.

> This seems very baited and/or flame-war inducing. It’s denigrating towards an entire profession/discipline. I’d almost go so far as to say that this misunderstanding about journalism

It's right in line with the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect[1].

> Journalism should be about creating an objective conduit for civic impetus.

This is a jump from objecting to "is" statements to making an "ought" statement. It also seems to most likely be promoting what I've heard called "advocacy journalism", which I have the impression is a good chunk of why trust in the news is down.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Crichton#GellMannAmn...

> It also seems to most likely be promoting what I've heard called "advocacy journalism"

I’m sorry this is the impression you were given because my intention was the exact opposite.

In the US, there was a brief period when real fact-checking existed. Then the political activists saw that the regular press had lost all credibility, but the fact-checking brand still retained some, so they made a hard push to take them over. Which by the time of covid has been already mostly complete, and with the push to fight "medical misinformation" (which was quickly defined as any information that contradicts the currently approved doctrine, no matter how scientifically based, factually correct or practically useful) "fact-checking" has been completely subverted to serve the preferred narrative and suppress any heretical thought.

> The reality, at least in Spain, is that fact checkers are just a side-effect of the kulturwars and don't bring any truth to the table.

I am sad to note that the situation in the US is exactly the same. Though the majority of "fact-checkers" and all major social networks are on single side of the said wars.

Thing is, if the idea is to stop wrong conspiracy theories from veing talked about, it makes sense to ban legitimate science that points in the direction of the conspiracy. If you want to do propaganda, then misinformation is useful. But even using only good-faith articles as sources, you can still make your propaganda, it will just be harder.

Especially with covid it seems like social media has decided to counter propaganda rather than misinformation. I can see why, but I think it is wrong. Especially if the argument is 'this is false'.

To me, this shows once again that content moderation against misinformation does not fit with private parties.

> But even using only good-faith articles as sources, you can still make your propaganda, it will just be harder.

That's what, at their best, most of the media are doing. Presenting well-researched, balanced, truthful stories, carefully selected to promote their own ideology. Forget journalism - this even happens in peer-reviewed science:

Ceci et al. (1985) found a similar pattern. Research proposals hypothesizing either "reverse discrimination" (i.e., against White males) or conventional discrimination (i.e., against ethnic minorities) were submitted to 150 Internal Review Boards. Everything else about the proposals was held constant. The "reverse discrimination" proposals were approved less often than the conventional discrimination proposals. - https://jsis.washington.edu/global/wp-content/uploads/sites/...

Using an article critical of the pfizer trials in a well balanced truthful way is one thing. Using that same article to argue that e.g. the government is trying to poison us (or microchip us) is another thing entirely.

I think we need to work against the latter. I don't think censoring good-faith articles that are often abused is the way to do that.

Spot on, the question is, do you trust BMJ?

I think BMJ has a pretty convincing reputation. So how can ANY fact checker flag an article from them without really good arguments?

There is a serious flaw in the way schools teach people about propaganda, that leaves people believing that propaganda is synonymous with lying, and if a claim is factual then it isn't propaganda. Propaganda is any communication that is calculated to further an agenda. Propaganda uses truth, lies, everything in-between, and everything else (claims that don't lay on the truth-lie continuum at all; e.g. subjective values.)

That definition would forbid any kind of "call to action" communication, would it?

Debates are all and good, but at some point, a decision has to be reached. Especially for a problem like the current pandemic, this unfortunately involves calls for every individual to radically change their behaviour. That fits the definition of "agenda" pretty well.

So if any "any communication that is calculated to further an agenda" is forbidden, how would you fight the pandemic?

> "fact-checking" has been completely subverted to serve the preferred narrative and suppress any heretical thought

I don't think this is correct. In my experience, most online "fact checkers" seem to get it right the great majority of the time.

Can you point to some examples you are thinking of?

Remember the lab leak conspiracy theory, that got people banned on the spot? Every fact checker would tell you there's no scientific basis for it, every scientist worth of their name is opposing to it and it's a complete fabrication spread around by conspiracy nuts. Except it turned out not only it is not so, but people who said it knew it wasn't so and were lying because of vested interests, which they failed to disclose and hoped to keep hidden, but "conspiracy nuts" revealed it and the house of cards collapsed. For example:


Note they didn't say with scientific humility "we do not know if that scenario actually happened, more data is needed, it's too early to make the conclusion". They say "it's ridiculous and debunked" and rate it "pants on fire" (i.e. an obvious outrageous lie). They act as if they are the ultimate authority with absolute knowledge of the facts and expertise to make such calls - while they don't have neither the facts nor the expertise. And this happens again and again.

I read the entire link you posted. The conclusion presented lacks nuance. But other than that I see no issue with that debunking. Even drawing that conclusion is understandable at the time it was initially published. But I agree, the conclusion was too categoric for the nuance presented in the rest of the article. They even mention that a leak is a possibility being investigated. Now, since that possibility has more standing, they even retracted the article. They did not delete it, they uptated it with a notice at the very top and it is there for everyone to read.

You are misrepresenting that article.

Do you believe covid is a bioweapon?

Remember that the ones spreading this theory before any evidence of any kind, were very much pushing a biowarfare angle. They still are but now they are more diluted ammong the larger group supporting a lab leak theory.

The conspiracy theories these people were pushing as a lab release had themes of gerontocide, eugenics, mind control by 5G, microchipping, general anti-vaxx beliefs most blaming Bill Gates as a sort of Bond villain.

All of these are still being pushed.

Do we have more plausible sources an accident happened? Yes. Was it reasonable to blame China for biowarfare against the whole world including itself, or to accuse Bill Gates for planning to exterminate half the population? No.


Fully agree that Snopes comes off very much in her support here - however, at least they still seem to do their job and describe her actual actions in due detail in the article - even if this leads to a completely ridiculous outcome ("Can bombing a government building really be called terrorism? Hmm, difficult to say...")

This seems better than the OP's fact checker, which just presents the story as "fully debunked" without actually doing so.

People rarely get anything right. We do the best we can based on the time- and information available while trying not to bite the hand that feeds us. Fact checkers are no different.

Zuck ofc really likes to feed on things. Getting rid of information is okay as long as it doesn't gets in the way of his feeding. FB fact checking is both expensive and crap but still light years ahead of amazon reviews.

In regards to medical “fact checking” at least ( though obviously extended to pretty much anything ) the same people who tell me men can get pregnant and women have penises are the same ones telling me the vaccine is good. The same people who “fact checked” covid passports as a conspiracy theory a year ago and the same ones “fact checking” it as effective and necessary now. The same people who call me selfish for wanting to live normal after so long and the same ones having galas and parties for themselves.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like being gas lighted.

I do not believe fact checks. They have zero credibility.

This will be some snark in this comment, but against my own country and not you and yours. I invite a cross-cultural comment on competence.

Are the partisan fact-checkers in Spain at least competent enough to write grammatical, parsable sentences and titles?

From the BMJ OP: > It has a nonsensical title: “Fact Check: The British Medical Journal Did NOT Reveal Disqualifying And Ignored Reports Of Flaws In Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trials”

Like the BMJ apparently, I first read this with a comma or mdash after 'Disqualifying' -- hence a broken sentence. With more thought, perhaps the inferrable punctuation intended 'Disqualifying-And-Ingored' -- in which case they might or might not be fact-checking a straw-man claim.

A negligible point perhaps, but the one fact-check I recall Dr. John Cambell on YT examining also included a broken sentence. (Small sample size, I know.)

To me, this speaks to the qualifications and processes of the fact-checkers under debate here, attempting as they are to adjudicate in scientific debates.

Attempting as they apparently are to define truth.

(Or perhaps Meta does A/B testing by breaking sentences in search of more engagement.)

In Spain journalism is lazy, but instances of poor writing are much less common than in the anglosphere. They do clickbait, but maybe it's because the spanish language is more formal than english, you can't really bee too creative without writing something meaningless.

This comment needs several fact checks

How is spanish more formal than english? You can write in a formal way or in a less formal one, like in most languages.

English is a bit notorious for "allowing" a lot of creative play with words (like that old quote of "every word can be verbed").

Another thing that affects perceived formality is that "you" in English is both singular and plural and out-of-respect You.

If you've ever done any translation between English and a foreign language, you'd notice that the appetite for such gymnastics is much less. (I think that's part of why there are so many English loanwords in other languages too, but I have no data to back it up)

> With more thought, perhaps the inferrable punctuation intended 'Disqualifying-And-Ingored'

Yup, that's how I parsed it.

I had to re-read it to find why someone might think it was nonsensical.

Definitely wouldn't be the case in the US, they're fact checkers must be entirely legit because the media and politicians say so...

The way a political 'side' can so swiftly (and hypocritically) move into authoritarianism because of self-belief in their moral authority is sad, if unsurprising. Much as religion has justified many atrocities through time for 'good,' people seem terrible at critical thinking once they feel 'right.'

I think this is a pretty good summary for the US as well.

Not exactly doubting you, but is this really accurate? I hear a lot of "fact checkers are biased marxist commies" coming from people who just don't like it when "their side" is criticised.

Which is silly. At least I can talk about fact checkers in my country: they give you a write-up of all the sources and reasoning they pursued to ascertain the truth of some thing, then add their own evaluation in a scale of true, mostly true, false, pants on fire. How can people say they're biased when they give you a 100% transparent detail of how they came to their conclusion?

Also, it's funny when people say that multi-billion dollar media corporations are biased... towards the left x)

Some of them are straight up clowns:

> Claim Susan Rosenberg is a convicted terrorist who has sat on the board of directors of Thousand Currents, an organization which handles fundraising for the Black Lives Matter Global Network.

Rating: Mixture

About this rating

What's True Susan Rosenberg has served as vice chair of the board of directors for Thousand Currents, an organization that provides fundraising and fiscal sponsorship for the Black Lives Matter Global Movement. She was an active member of revolutionary left-wing movements whose illegal activities included bombing U.S. government buildings and committing armed robberies.

What's Undetermined In the absence of a single, universally-agreed definition of "terrorism," it is a matter of subjective determination as to whether the actions for which Rosenberg was convicted and imprisoned — possession of weapons and hundreds of pounds of explosives — should be described as acts of "domestic terrorism."


Almost all media organizations are encouraged to publish hate-inducing headlines and clickbait, so in principle fact checking could help people. Stuff like the above Snopes bit is pure partisan comedy that does nothing but undermine the entire idea, though.

I would disagree with fact checkers being “biased and bad” in Spain. Some political parties have copied the misinformation spreading style, and they probably don’t like being called out.

We only effectively have 2 political parties in the USA. there are some other parties but all together they only make up 5-10% depending on the given year. Libertarian and Greens are probably the only ones worth mentioning from a statistical point of view. About 40% of Americans register as independent (no party) but when you talk to them they are usually strongly invested in one party or the other.



Rupert Murdoch is Jewish?

It took a lot of work finding one that was English/scott.

There is the famous Elon Musk tweet


That's not who Elon was referring to. And the Economist is primarily owned by the Italian Agnelli family, not jewish people. I'll leave it for you to decide how many other things it gets wrong...

From google

``` Aside from the Agnelli family, smaller shareholders in the company include Cadbury, Rothschild (21%), Schroder, Layton and other family interests as well as a number of staff and former staff shareholders. ```

We've banned this account for repeatedly posting antisemitic tropes (not allowed here) and for using HN primarily for ideological battle (also not allowed).

Please don't create accounts to break HN's rules with.


When did he tweet that?

He was referring to "powerful people" not jewish people. The previous tweet said "Do you think it's in the interest of powerful people to..." So he was playing on that.

> there is a limit to what independent fact checking can accomplish

Slightly on a tangent, but it is worth mentioning.

I used to be a regular part of both English and a regional language version of <very overhyped SV darling Q&A site which still survives and many wonder how and why>.

There were moderators on this site. And moderation was overseen by "Community Managers" who are humanities majors and MBAs. They not only let very wrong answers on scientific, mathematical, and technical matters stay on their platform until and unless reported by someone with good credentials, they also picked up "top writers" from people who wrote weirdly wrong things like Python being a database, or Quantum Mechanics determining the radii of solar systems.

It was embarassingly funny to watch. The arts major, MBA community managers did not know jack about programming or physics, yet, they are supposed to choose "top writers".

This also points the flaws in the thought that professional factcheckers should exist and they can be trusted with every topic.

They simply won't know enough. Ever.

A knowledgeable SWE won't work for a Q&A site's moderation or a renowned biologist for Facebook factchecking. They would rather work at a high-paying tech job and a tenure track professorship or big pharma, respectively.

This sounds vaguely familiar. Do you think the people who created this site had recurring opinions on a particular type of punctuation?

You could work for the media/press if it was worth it as a side gig. But they tend to pay badly.

I am not a fan of Facebook, but this is one reason they did not want to get into being the arbiter of what is true (Along with a lot of other less noble reasons). There are indeed things that are demonstrably not true, or presented in a very misleading manner, but there's a whole class of things that are in between.

The scientific world in general is a community where research about things comes in, people digest it, and come to a consensus. This includes some contradictory things or things that turn out to be faulty conclusions. This does not make them "fact check verified false". It is a stream of information that is weighed and honed over time with further research or questioning.

Now I agree people are very bad (even "smart" people) at ditching their inherent tribal nature to weigh data that supports their bias more highly. The echo chambers of partisans on social media will assign an impossible burden of proof against evidence that challenges their thought on something and have no burden of proof on the converse. But that does not mean that we can then make it binary of "true" or "untrue" to stop this. "Fact-checks" feel good, but it is clear now they are being extended to not just the realm of demonstrably false information and more into the opinion and inconclusive realm.

If Facebook doesn't want to be arbiter, they should stop arbitrating.

The moment Facebook chooses what to display, they own the content.

And it just so happens that what Facebook chooses to display, chooses to recommend, are the lies, more often than not.

The moment Facebook stops trying to be the arbiter is the moment the government steps in and places heavy regulations on them.

Facebook's algorithmic outrage amplification is necessary to prevent an overbearing government from forcibly reverting parasocial norms to a simple chronologically sorted inbox?

A chronologically sorted inbox is the worst possible world for The Facebook. How can you boost user engagement with advertisers if you don’t use algorithms that repost years old stories of that time your dog died?

> A chronologically sorted inbox is the worst possible world for The Facebook.

As an aside, chronological sort key has been available in the previous designs, and the URL still works


It has its limits of usefulness, though - some group admins moderate new posts in bulk once a day (if that), so depending on the time of visit you might be swamped with dozens of posts from the same group.

I don’t know exactly what you mean, but from a legal perspective, Facebook most certainly does not “own” anyone’s content by virtue merely of putting it in someone’s News Feed.

You didn't really give any legal perspective. Either Facebook owns the content and the liability as a publisher, or it's a platform and shouldn't fixing content towards what they want to show.

You're not making any sense. From a liability standpoint, there is no legal distinction between platform and a publisher.

You might be getting confused by the concept of a common carrier. Facebook is not a common carrier. It might be possible to amend the common carrier law to cover Facebook, but in the current political climate that seems unlikely.


Facebook is not a common carrier, but enjoys liability protections under the CDA Safe Harbor:

47USC230(c)(1) "(1)Treatment of publisher or speaker No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

And definitions-- 47 USC 230(f)(3) The term “information content provider” means any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other interactive computer service.

Of course, CDA also excuses Facebook from making tilted or faulty moderation decisions in good faith.

You are mixing up two legal concepts: one is intellectual property ownership; the other is liability for republishing what others say. They are two different bodies of law: IP law (copyright/trademark) and tort law (libel etc.). They are analyzed under separate legal lenses.

Facebook can allow whatever they like on their website and it is perfectly legal. I would rather they filter out 98% of the tripe with a 2% fail rate (sorry BJM!)

You'd think so, but in doing so you've just imagined the world's most terrifying propaganda tool.

Exactly, let’s not forget that any story that refers to Taiwan being an independent country is marked as “fake news” in some parts of the world which has a chilling effect.

Why do we assume our own governments will also be immune from the same temptations?

They're not. Israel has the Hasbara team. KSA has the "lord of the flies" troll farm. Britain has the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, and the Integrity Initiative. But by far the best is Operation Mockingbird.

As just one example, take Hunter Biden's laptop before the election. This got memory-holed so fast, half of America doesn't know it exists, and 2/3rds of the rest believe the 50+ intelligence agents who immediately said, with no proof, it's Russian disinformation. This was epitomized by the reporter who said, -even if the laptop is true-, the press must treat it as disinformation.

One doesn't know what one doesn't know.

Oh, they did want to get into arbitering very much, and they got into it. What they didn't want is responsibility for their actions. They wanted to ban whoever they wanted to ban, but never be questioned on either the fact or the lack of ban in any particular case, and on the random and inconsistent enforcement of any "policies" they might have. They wanted - and still want - all the power and none of the responsibility.

It's not a matter of truth or not. They suppressed an article reporting on whistleblower accusations and documents backing them up.

The press cover people getting accused of crimes all the time. The press does not say "this person committed that crime." The press reports on arraignments, events at trial, verdicts, and reactions from relevant parties like legal experts.

I wonder how much more expensive would it be to have "explainers" instead of "fact-checkers".

We all have heard about "the same lies being repeat over and over". Well, if these lies are indeed all kinda the same, then it should be relatively easy to (1) gather a proper, extensive set of facts that disprove the lies and then (2) hire an army of war hamsters to introduce these facts into discussion - following the guidelines from (1).

Right now this approach doesn't work very well, because as soon as you start attacking anyone with facts and logic, you simply get banned from the community. But I'm sure changing this is within the power of the social media.

But that has been done again and again.

Let's not talk about Covid, but climate change (which interestingly never attracted the Facebook et al fact checkers even though it is a much more existential crisis for humanity). There are many sites that debunk the arguments like "it was warmer in the middle ages", "warming can be attributed to sun activities", realclimate.org is a great resource for instance. Still the same arguments get brought up every time, and the facts simply get ignored.

Actually, I saw some "Climate Facts" blob from Facebook on a post that was extremely tangentially related, but the glorious Algorithm had apparently decided it was a discussion on climate change, and therefore needed to insert itself into it, making sure there was no wrongthink, or something.

Completely tone-deaf, and therefore extremely off-putting. I would not be surprised if an effort like that completely backfires.

A mandatory prayer at school is the best way to breed an atheist.

Correct. The last step needed: the debunkers need to debunk the myths not in their cozy groups and websites, but in the enemy's lair. This achieves two purposes:

First, those reading the myths will immediately see the refusal. They don't need to search through multiple websites. They don't have to go through the layers of meaningless arguments. Here's bullshit in the post - here's refusal in the reply. Easy-peasy.

Second, with this everyone knows that once he posts some burp - someone will call him out. And nobody - not even a group moderator - will be able to come to the rescue.

Such a fantasy. This is exactly how it happens. And they literally just respond to the “debunking” post with garbage and move on. It’s not about information, it’s about emotion and tribe.

Not always.

I remember scrolling through the flat-earhers forum once and I was amazed how short all the arguments have been. The conversation was usually like:

- Look, the Earth is really flat, I've measured the visible height of such-and-such mountain from such-and-such place and it's way higher than should've been.

- Man, you got the distance wrong. Look at google map, you're off by X hundred miles. Try doing your calculations with the correct numbers

- Fuck off, I've got better things to do in my life than replying your stupid messages


This is great in theory if each individual has the ability to arrive at the same conclusion as the “debunkers”. They don’t, so they fallback to trust, and that’s when it all breaks down.

The most important thing to combat misinformation is to build trust. Anyone trying to combat misinformation while disparaging their tribal outgroup is playing politics, not combating misinformation.

In your post you call people you need to convince that you’re trustworthy “enemies”. There’s no way that will ever work.

Most people are quite reasonable and can be convinced.

On the other hand most people are lazy and often it's about "some <yet another evil theory> explained right here" vs. "an alternative (and probably much better) explanation of the same thing on some smarty-pants website". Well, people just don't go to that somewhere else and ignore it. Out of site - out of mind.

If you see an inconvenient reply under every message of your local prophet, you may not get convinced right away, but the seeds of doubt will be sown.

'existential crisis' : citation needed backed by actual model of the universe and human behavior.

Thanks for proving my argument

Extraordinary claims need extra-ordinary proof.

Humans have survived for hundreds of thousands of years, You are making the claim of their extinct in the next 50 years. The burden of proof is on you to prove that.

If you make the claim that Earth will stop spinning tomorrow, you have to produce the proof, not me

OP is not making the claim that Earth will stop spinning tomorrow though. Nor did OP mention 50 years. Nor does OP need to prove global warning, since many others have done that. Not that you'd read it but here's a readable summary of the evidence, https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/climate-chan...

Global Warming by 2-3 degress doesn't imply human extinction (or even the leading cause of deaths).

That is an incredible lazy, naive and dumb take on effects of Climate Change. Human ingenuity and technology and accumulated capital of nearly $200 Trillion can easily scale mitigating solutions when it really comes to it.

Unfortunately, Policy makers never take into account the dynamic, complex systems and use linear graphs done by low-paid interns to predict economic and human systems.

you just reinvented the news journalist...

Well, with the decline of newspapers there should be plenty of unemployed journalists who'll be happy to spread some knowledge around FB for a moderate fee?

Or - this thought scares me the most - FB actually doesn't care about facts?

Facebook "fact checks" are, according to Facebook's attorneys, just opinions[1].

[1] https://thefederalist.com/2021/12/13/facebook-quietly-admits...

Well, they surely are. The stupid part it's that they are opinions of people that have no business having an opinion on such matters, them having no related qualifications, no education, no access to facts, not doing any research or having any idea how the research is done at all - and their opinion is taken as one trumping the opinion of the actual experts in the field. Out of all possible opinions Facebook chooses the worst to listen to.

Worse, FB doesn't care about the facts and neither do journalists anymore. All that matters is clicks and political leanings.

Google and Facebook are a direct cause of the decline in the quality of newspapers and journalism in general through their intentional strategy to capture as much of the value from news as possible, even though they created none of the actual content.

This means most newsrooms can't afford as many editors and fact-checkers, can't dedicate journalists to complex subject areas, can't afford to have journalists spending weeks or months on particularly complicated and deep stories, etc.

They surely knew what the consequences would be of starving newsrooms of income, yet went ahead anyway and didn't bother to even think of let alone implement alternative models to preserve valuable news.

It's a rather typical SV hubris, isn't it?

Facebook cares about advertising revenue. They only care about "facts" when content posted by users causes advertiser boycotts, or attracts unwanted attention from powerful politicians.

Journalists dont exist to spread knowledge. They exist to spread ideologies.

I challenge you to find a point in human history where "journalists" weren't putting their fingers on the scale. Look at the journalistic antics of someone like Benjamin Franklin for instance.

I think the easiest (?) thing to do would be to create automated tools to help individuals raise the level of debate when they encounter disinformation. Something where you could paste in a comment and get some analysis which included a) a classification about the specific kind of disinformation, b) an analysis of different kinds of sentiment, c) suggestions for how to reach the person spreading the disinformation, and d) other recommended strategies.

Anti-disinformation campaigns are probably more effective with a decentralized component.

I think it's important to realize that it's not a question of facts vs. "facts." In my experience there are grievances which can, until they are heard, make a person relatively impervious to facts and traditional debate.

Funnily enough, Facebook tried that shit as well with covid. I saw them pop up an extra icon in the comment field. "Insert a GIF", "Insert a Smiley", "Insert a Covid fact"

Also extremely off-putting and counter-productive. Who is writing the comment? Me or Facebook? Why am I writing this comment, when the glorious Algorithm could just auto-generate a response for me?

And of course the insertable "facts" were irrelevant to the discussion, and were just re-iterations of the mainstream position.

As the letter points out, in this particular case, fact checking is not hard.

In fact, this is one of the easiest scenarios for a fact checker to handle correctly.

The source is a reputable, top-tier peer-reviewed publication. Even an inexperienced (but competent) fact checker could check run literature searches on the journal, reviewers and authors. This would reveal that they’re working at reputable institutions, and have been for decades.

That’s not fact checking, that’s reputation assessment.

It’s not hard to keep a list of journals and assign them a reputation score. Commercial services do exactly this.

But even the best journals screw up, especially in their blog posts!

Remember the “fact-check” wasn’t for the peer reviewed article itself, but a blog post promoting it.

Even if the BMJ has a high reputation score, not all of its blogs should share that. It might be run by the social media team - not the editorial staff.

No.. the fact checker should also make sure true facts aren't being used out of context causing the reader come to incorrect conclusions. That's what is happening with the BMJ article.

That's why the fact check report doesn't mention any specific factual inaccuracies. Context matters, missing context is a problem.

EDIT: see here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29597047

Please do not protect me from the truth even if it leads me to inconvenient conclusions.

BMJ is protecting you from the truth by hiding additional relevant information.

What incorrect conclusion and who came to it?

The BMJ article being discussed points out flaws in the medical validation of the covid vaccine. While true, this medical journal article is being used by the anti-vaccination advocates to make a more general claim that the vaccine is ineffective/dangerous/evil, etc.

Even though the medical journal article accurately shows problems with this specific aspect of the medical/clinical review of the vaccine, the vaccine is proving effective in combating the transmission and severity of the covid virus. Many of the people currently going to the hospital for covid are unvaccinated. This is placing a heavy burden on the hospitals and preventing other people from getting the care they need.

People are fighting over specific facts because they are trying to influence the broader narrative/discourse going on in society about covid, vaccinations, lockdowns, etc.

Comments in this thread are discussing facebook, journalists and fact-checkers, and their roles in influencing public opinion and social discourse.

Under that system a young German scientist who wrote about the photovoltaic effect would be ignored and classified as non-reputable. Just saying being part of the institutions doesn't make on right it makes one prominent.

This isn't about the inherent limits of fact-checking (substantial though they are). It's about the inherent bias of Facebook's fact-checking.

All arbiters of truth will eventually end up deferring to whatever the current holders of power wants the narrative to be as that is the nature of power and authoritative fact-checking is merely one more aspect of how power is exercises.

> there is a limit to what independent fact checking can accomplish

I am fine with that. But they shouldn't call it a "fact-check" when the only thing they can connect the dots with are opinions, not facts.

> and why news is separated out from opinion-editorial pages... even if it is in style to add opinions

The problem I have with so-called "fact checkers" is that when it comes down to put the money where their mouth is, that is in court, they argue that they are not factual but rather opinion pieces, as Facebook recently argued in court: https://nypost.com/2021/12/14/facebook-admits-the-truth-fact... (I couldn't find a more politically neutral source, sorry)

Indeed, as we saw in the recent-ish fact checking failure by the New Yorker about the "rent-a-family" business in Japan: https://newrepublic.com/article/160595/new-yorker-japan-rent...

From the article:

>An emerging theme in both controversies is that there is a fatal chink in the armor of even the most rigorous fact-checking process—that it is especially vulnerable to a naked betrayal of trust by an author or source. There is only so much a fact-checker can do if someone is intent on telling lies, particularly when the stakes are so low [...]

"Fact checking" by social media giants is an inherent farce, which would be laughable if it weren't leading to people getting oppressed and killed and governments being perverted.

Overall they are doing more good than harm. Quickly cutting disinformation about covid and sending hateful racist/terroristic politics down the toilet where it belongs is important even if they mess up occasionally. I would have them hire fact checkers than just let the garbage that floats around freely on facebook not get shutdown.

The BMJ, ironically, is prone to publishing articles that make unverified claims without making clear rather significant conflicts of interest.

Infamously, they published a largely spurious article which claimed that UK govt cuts had killed hundreds of thousands of people, they failed to make clear several aspects of the data that didn't support their conclusion which ofc was that doctors should get more money, they also failed to mention that one of the authors ran a company selling stuff to the NHS that was linked to the conclusions or that the lead author of the paper had no statistical training.

Unfortunately, life is like this. Doctors would prefer that people just listen to them, they are very serious people after all, we should believe everything they say. Most fact-checking services in the UK have a ludicrously political bent, they pick whatever facts and sources support their argument. In practice, they are just attempting to stop all debate about a topic. Life is messy, people will have different opinions even if they acknowledge the same facts, proof is often messy and unclear (if you look at some of the forecasts for Covid this year, just ludicrously wrong and all errors in the same direction...we need criticism, we need debate...afaik, only one publication has actually highlighted all these forecasters who dominate the media making consistently bad forecasts...where are the fact-checkers now? Too busy hunting down shadows on Twitter.). Deal with life as it is, not life as you wish it was (again, doctors in the UK are more guilty than anyone in civil society of this error, their lobbying/political power is immense, their view is: might makes right).

This one is much trickier than it looks. Reposting user nojito's post (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29596111), but here in a top level comment:

> The fact check was correct in this instance though?

> https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2021/11/fact-check-britis...

> The conclusions in the original BMJ article make zero sense when actually scrutinized.

> https://www.bmj.com/content/375/bmj.n2635

Please read both URLs before commenting in depth.

Both these things can be true:

That this BMJ article is correct and this particular part of the trial was botched by the contractor who covered it up, and the BMJ is unsatisfied with the level of follow-up by the FDA.

That the other trial sites were well managed and valid, that the results at this trial site do not overturn the overall results, and that the FDI found it unnecessary to investigate further.

There are multiple problems:

1. The Lead Stories article aims to debunks social media narratives linked to the BMJ article, but the result is the BMJ article itself being censored on social media (preventing it from being sent in DMs among other things)

2. The gist of the Lead Stories article is that Pfizer, the FDA, and Ventavia have found the whistleblower report "unsubstantiated". These organizations have not to my knowledge offered any facts that would lead us to doubt the whistleblower's report; and further, have made claims that were directly contradicted by the whistleblower (with proof), such as which team she worked on.

3. The last part of the LS article seems like it would be a violation of fact-checking ethics (if such a thing existed), since it brings the debate out of a dispassionate argument about facts, into an ugly ad-hominem attack (stating that she "does not express unreserved support for COVID vaccines" on her personal Twitter). Similar errors are made in another fact-check below the HN comment you link to (by Dr. David Gorsky, oncologist).

Given these points, I don't see how you can call the fact-check "correct".

Article makes claim X. Readers of article say it makes claims X, Y, and Z. Independent fact check puts a stamp on article saying "This doesn't say Y and Z", but to most people, who will for the same reason share an article after only reading a title or a little blurb their friend wrote, will write off the article as flawed or fake news because of the fact check stamp.

Not really sure what a good solution to this is, other than to "fact check" people's posts on facebook, as well as the links they share. So maybe this link can be shared without the fact checked stamp among epidemiologists on facebook, but Bob's anti-vaxx group may get fact check labels when they try to summarize what is in the article.

> "Readers of article say it makes claims X, Y, and Z."

says who?

"Intended for healthcare professionals" - it literally says so above the page header.

Edit: maybe fact checking systems need to label certain things as "This is a publication from a narrow domain venue intended for professionals. Specialized domain knowledge may be required to derive correct conclusions." instead of fact checking only the first few paragraphs using common journalistic standards because "users on social media only saw this title, description and thumbnail[...]".

I've read over both sides of this, and there is some editorializing going on in this medical journal that makes it less about facts. The title makes no mention of Ventavia, but instead mentions Pfizer. The headline doesn't specify that Ventavia managed 1/44th of the trial, nor anything factual (mostly speculation that the data integrity is questionable).

> Revelations of poor practices at a contract research company helping to carry out Pfizer’s pivotal covid-19 vaccine trial raise questions about data integrity and regulatory oversight.

The questions are all whether this one company had poor practices. It mixes comments regarding the larger trial of Pfizer with this isolated company trial. At times it's hard to tell if they're referencing Pfizer or Ventavia (as "company"). An investigation found nothing remarkable at other sites managed by other contractors, but then even that is questioned because this small company wasn't investigated.

I'm not actually sure what part of this medical journal _is_ factual.

It was ultimately Pfizer's trial and Pfizer bears all responsibility for their contractors.

What you’re saying is true, and completely tangential to the problem. When you are concerned that validation done by a subcontractor might be weak, it is entirely sensible that you subdivide the work. What we need is a statistical reanalysis that considers that, e.g., 10% of each step is done wrongly. And a regulatory regime that doesn’t hand wave away complaints, has rigorous protection for whistleblowers, and serious financial penalties for misconduct.

The BMJ might be right, but also have constructed an article that will be wildly misunderstood... and not sensible content for facebook.

It will not be misunderstood by intended readers of BMJ. As for facebook it has all kinds of readers and groups including those that are meant for professionals.

I think I completely understand the article but still think that it's editorializing facts. Why exactly would professionals feel differently? If they had done some investigations themselves and found a series of poor contractors that all reported similar issues, I think we could take this as much more concerning. This looks like a director from a single company and a few anonymous researchers at the same company came forward with bad practices for 1000 trials.

Also, as the article points out, investigations were performed at other contractors. Wild speculation, but that could be that Pfizer didn't even need a full 44k and they just ignored 1k? (For example, they concluded the trial with 41k getting a second dose.)

The issue is that proper investigation was not done. We need more transparency and this is not what is happening. What happened with the data from these researchers? There are no indications that they were removed from the study analysis. If the problems with this one researcher is swept under carpet, how do we know that there are not number of other researchers with different problems?

Without this vigilance how do you distinguish between ivermectin studies that showed a positive effect and vaccine studies? Some of ivermectin studies but not all were discovered to be total frauds. At some point when you see too many problems you just have to distrust them by default until proved otherwise.

In fact, I think that there is possibility that the Pfizer vaccine trial results turned out quite different from effectiveness in real life in part due to issues like this.

The BMJ article, near the end, reports that the FDA actually did investigate and did find issues with the trial.

> An FDA review memorandum released in August this year states that across the full trial swabs were not taken from 477 people with suspected cases of symptomatic covid-19.

Of course, this comes after insinuating earlier that there is a complete lack of oversight.

> “There’s just a complete lack of oversight of contract research organisations and independent clinical research facilities,” says Jill Fisher, professor of social medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and author of Medical Research for Hire: The Political Economy of Pharmaceutical Clinical Trials.

I guess since you yourself were misled according to their own inconsistencies, maybe that is enough to convince you that the article is misleading.

I don't know what FDA review memorandum involves but it doesn't sound that the FDA did investigation. It could be simply that the FDA checked submitted documentation from that site and concluded this because the CRO hadn't provided any test results.

Sorry, I don't see any inconsistencies. The box clearly explains what they mean by complete lack of oversight – doing inspections many months after the trial and even then just checking the paperwork.

Not necessarily. If there's an instance of someone blowing the whistle, and there's no investigation it's completely reasonable to suspect that the whole integrity of the process might be iffy.

Blocking the article (instead of opening relevant books to show that in fact it was just exception to otherwise solid prices makes) makes even stronger case that the prices is not honest.

I guess it's not so hard to believe you're getting downvoted by shedding light on a situation about censorship.

The first question in everybody's head when reading this article is, "Were the vaccine trials legitimate or not?"

BMJ does not even come close to truthfully answering this question. With their authority as a medical journal and a very limited amount of evidence, they give a clear and incorrect impression that the vaccine trials were not legitimate.

Do they report on the limitations of their evidence? No. Do they report on the perspective of employees at other trial sites? No. Do they get quotes from Pfizer, other health orgs, Ventavia executives? No. Do they report about other speculative factors at play from Ventavia ex-employees? No.

Are they purposefully hiding new relevant information? Yes. They leaked in their own article that the FDA is aware and reviewed the Ventavia trial.

> An FDA review memorandum released in August this year states that across the full trial swabs were not taken from 477 people with suspected cases of symptomatic covid-19.

After insinuating earlier that there is a complete lack of oversight.

> “There’s just a complete lack of oversight of contract research organisations and independent clinical research facilities,” says Jill Fisher, professor of social medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and author of Medical Research for Hire: The Political Economy of Pharmaceutical Clinical Trials.

Honestly, BMJ seems to be working very hard to lie using true facts. I have no objections to their articles being marked as false.

>> The first question in everybody's head when reading this article is, "Were the vaccine trials legitimate or not?"

You are writing complete rubbish. BMJ does not question the legitimacy of the vaccine trials. With this sentence you are making very serious accusations to healthcare professionals. Most likely you don't even understand how clinical trials work or terminology used in the original article. If BMJ were not a serious journal, nothing in medicine would be serious including those trials.

BMJ is questioning some irregularities brought to the light by a whistle-blower. It shows some evidence confirming issues about one particular clinical research organization and lack of reaction from the FDA. These issues should be addressed and resolved to remove doubts that the data from vaccine trials can be sufficiently trusted.

Also FDA memorandum does not confirm that the FDA has investigated the sites. You probably don't even understand what the quoted professor meant by “oversight”. It definitely is not just checking and fully trusting the submitted paperwork.

The title BMJ chose is "Covid-19: Researcher blows the whistle on data integrity issues in Pfizer’s vaccine trial"

And? It's very precise and describes exactly what happened.

Wouldn't it be a lot clearer if it were something like "issues at three sites doing Pfizer vaccine trials" instead of "issues in Pfizer’s vaccine trial"?

The singular "trial" in the headline implies that the flaws are in the trial as a whole rather than in a particular distinct subset of the trials.

You apparently use the word trial differently than it is used in pharma.

Pfizer had one large trial that involved many sites. Three of those sites run by Ventavia had problems. That's why the headline says “in trial”. But even if you didn't know that it is explained in BMJ article “... Ventavia had enrolled more than 1000 participants at three sites. The full trial (registered under NCT04368728) enrolled around 44 000 participants across 153 sites that included numerous commercial companies and academic centres.”

Well, there are: The provable lack of regulatory oversight and demonstration of the existence of poor practices at the company.

The argument that just because one of a company's trials are unsound doesn't mean that the rest aren't is not a good one, when the whole objective is to provide assurance in proving the safety of a product.

I get that it's hard to find the best balance in a headline let alone in a summary article. Yes, evidence of a problem in a portion of a trial is indeed evidence of problems in the trial.

I can see room for misunderstanding no matter what. Emphasize the portion of sites where the problem was observed and it wrongly can be inferred that the other sites are fine even if they have no evidence either way. Emphasize the problem as a generic feature of the trials overall and it can be wrongly inferred that the whistle is being blown on some aspect of the trial that doesn't have any site-specific aspect.

The story that I'm hearing in all this is that the whistleblower brought out issues that were specific to certain sites in a way that has no direct bearing on other sites besides being a reason to scrutinize the rest of the sites as well.

Maybe an analogy would be helpful. If a whistleblower observed a disregard for safety protocols at a food processing facility, that's not a randomized sampling that indicates a high likelihood of the problem being throughout all similar facilities, but it doesn't indicate otherwise either. It opens the question whether this is a typical problem in such facilities or if that facility is an exception. If the facility was supplying brand X, there's at least some sense to criticizing a headline like "whisteblower reveals brand X unsafe food handling" instead of "whistleblower reveals unsafe food handling at facility run by brand X". The former implies wider issues, the latter errs toward not making that presumption.

Yes, the problems in one site, especially if not dealt with properly, might indicate larger problems.

We all know that the trials were rushed and for a very good reason, there was a pandemic. Still, if issues are discovered they should be resolved. Pfizer is a private company, they are not obliged to be very transparent with everything they do. FDA is the main organisation that oversees such trial in the US, so this is their responsibility to investigate.

Your argument is basically that this article may be largely speculation, assuming that no information was withheld (even though the article contradicts itself in its own communication about FDA review of the trial)... and that this speculation is the same as minimal conclusions based on available evidence.

I disagree. One bad study doesn't mean all scientific conclusions are bad. One bad study doesn't mean Pfizer's trials are bad. Ignorance doesn't prove anything...

I don't know if you imagine me to be partisan here. I was arguing simply that headlines are hard to balance, and that people can interpret articles with a slant.

I wasn't saying that one bad study means the overall trial was bad.

The issue is that SOME people might think that. (Also others might think that if it's ONE study that's bad, the overall trial WAS fine, when that's not clear either).

The risk is whether real people take away a too-strong message and run with it.

In other words, journalists have SOME responsibility to not mislead people even when the main way people get off-track is their own erroneous jumping-to-conclusions as readers. We KNOW that readers do such things, so we have to be careful to minimize it.

> The questions are all whether this one company had poor practices.

If the FDA did not follow up on the whistleblower report it raises far broader questions about oversight of the trials as a whole.

There are so many foaming at the mouth morons desperate to “prove” that the whole thing was a sham that it will take extraordinary evidence to convince me anything improper was done.

The solution is not to discredit BMJ but to explain how BMJ article doesn't mean what antivax is insinuating.

I totally understand that when BMJ writes that this clinical research organization did a mess is this trial, someone misreads it as all Pfizer vaccine results are false. But if you say that BMJ is hoax, then we have much stronger reason to distrust healthcare professionals. Do you see the paradox here?

BMJ is expressing concern about Pfizer and regulator's failures with the ultimate aim to fix them and increase the trust by showing that every fault is taken seriously. We cannot sweep unwanted things under the carpet and hope that nothing will happen. Bad actors should be appropriately punished.

I want to second this. Because of how badly the right wants the vaccine to be dangerous/fake/whatever I'm so sensitive to anything negative that I basically brush off articles like this. In my mind I just lump it in with people saying the vaccine will make you impotent.

Probably the wrong way to think about things but that's how my mind works.

It appears that the source of the confusion is the lack of articles. The 'true' headline is "revealed flaws in A Pfizer vaccine trial", the misleading interpretation is "revealed flaws in THE Pfizer vaccine trial". Lead Stories emphasizes the significance of the other trials, The BMJ emphasizes the significance of the findings, and neither is really lying.

Where Lead Stories goes overboard is in the way they present their title. It would be far more appropriate to title the story like this:

>Fact Check: The British Medical Journal Revealed Flaws In Only One Of Many Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trials

In fact the use of the plural "Trials" in the fact-check title from Lead Stories is a malapropism, since the BMJ article clearly focuses on a single trial. The BMJ article also does not use the word "disqualifying" at all, nor does it supply such an implication.

The problem is not with fact-checking or even with attaching a fact-check to this particular story; the problem is that the content of the fact-check is structured like clickbait, with a classic motte-and-bailey title.

Except that's not the headline The BMJ ran, they ran: "Covid-19: Researcher blows the whistle on data integrity issues in Pfizer’s vaccine trial" This lacks significant context, which is exactly what FB said of it. Taken alone, I would call that headline false. There is no evidence of notable data integrity issues in Pfizer's vaccine trial beyond the typical levels of minor documentation issues expected in large human trials.

The entire article from the opening headline to the grey box take-aways to the closing paragraphs is framed to cast doubt on the entirety of Pfizer's vaccine operation. That they don't outright lie inside the article is beside the point, they don't need to. The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt and give ammo to anti-vax advocates who know the general public only read the headlines.

The issues with Ventavia, if true, are not something typical or expected at all. And it is even less expected that any reported issues will not be followed up by the regulator. While it is true that many trials suffer from similar issues, it is not the standard that we should accept.

And I don't understand why so many think that BJM article tries to cast doubt on the entirety of Pfizer's vaccine operation? It is nothing like that at all. It clearly says the issue is with one research organization contracted by Pfizer. Maybe it is because you lack the context and jump to quick conclusions?

The issue is with how many will interpret that headline. People who already want to believe that 100% of the vaccine research is a sham will run with this. The burden is on BJM to be extremely clear if they don't want to add to the misinformation.

It is an issue but that issue has to be solved by different means than having fact-checkers saying that BMJ is wrong. BMJ clearly states at the top of every page that it is meant for healthcare professionals.

Pedantic, sorry, but I don't think "malapropism" means what you think it means:

Here are some examples of malapropisms: Mrs. Malaprop said, "Illiterate him quite from your memory" (obliterate) and "She's as headstrong as an allegory" (alligator). Officer Dogberry said, "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons" (...suspicious persons). Rainy weather can be hard on the sciences. (sinuses)


The BMJ article is light on conclusions and is mostly just a report of facts. In the way of true conclusions I can find these:

> Revelations of poor practices at a contract research company helping to carry out Pfizer’s pivotal covid-19 vaccine trial raise questions about data integrity and regulatory oversight.

> for researchers who were testing Pfizer’s vaccine at several sites in Texas during that autumn, speed may have come at the cost of data integrity and patient safety

Which of these conclusions do you think make zero sense? The entire rest of the article looks like a recitation of facts to me.

Facebook users aren't reading the article. They're reading the title, and saying "aha, I knew it. The vaccine was unsafe all along." That's literally all the fact checkers said, "potential to mislead".

> "potential to mislead"

I can't find that expression anywhere in the Lead Stories article. Facebook outright labelled the BMJ article "false" and containing "false information".

Beyond that, should fact-checkers really become an "optics police"? For every single news story, you will have (wild) misinterpretations on social media. It becomes too convenient if a fact-checker can point to those, and then have Facebook limit the spread of the original story. This is a question of poor FDA oversight. There have been several instances throughout this pandemic: see the recent FDA resignations, and the GAO report[0]. Oversight is not about pro vs anti vaccine, this is about people's health[1]. Oversight should always be robust, even in emergency situations.

[0]: https://www.raps.org/news-and-articles/news-articles/2021/11...

[1]: story from Japan https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/07/third-person-d...

My bad, the actual quote is "Missing context ... Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people"

As far as whether Facebook should become "optics police" I think it's obviously a difficult decision, but with life and death questions such as "is the vaccine safe" I have to go with yes, facebook shouldn't let itself propagandize people who decide to read headlines instead of articles.

>life and death questions such as "is the vaccine safe"

Is that not a misleading thing to say yourself? Plenty of vaccinated have died. And for those unjabbed but with permanent acquired immunity, the jab may be safe yet at the same time have no material effect to save their life.

As best we can tell, no one has "permanent acquired immunity". 36% of those infected never develop antibodies. Of the remaining 64% that do, most lose their antibodies in less than a year.

What's plenty? The number matters because it may be insignificant.

The CDC makes it hard to find the data but it's at least hundreds per day in the US.

For example in Texas, from Jan-Oct of this year 8 percent of covid deaths were fully vaccinated: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/11/09/texas-unvac...

Most of that time period was before Delta or Omicron were dominant, not to mention the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes greatly over a ~6 month period, so the situation today is likely higher than 8 percent.

I'm not sure I follow the thread on how plenty of folks that are vaccinated have died (from being exposed to COVID-19, likely from those unvaccinated) means that the vaccine is not safe. The article you linked says those unvaccinated are 40x more likely to die (although it might be more like 14x with more recent data). Similarly, unvaccinated are more likely to spread COVID-19.

Unvaccinated are more likely to contract the virus from a family member. [0]

> According to the analysis, 25 percent of vaccinated contacts exposed to a household member with an infection contracted one themselves.

> In contrast, 38 percent of unvaccinated contacts got an infection.

> The study results suggest that because the viral load of vaccinated people drops off more quickly, their infection may be infectious for a shorter time than for unvaccinated people.


> Plenty of vaccinated have died.

From the vaccine?!?

> Facebook users aren't reading the article. They're reading the title, and saying "aha, I knew it. The vaccine was unsafe all along."

You literally just made this up.

It’s true. Spend a few minutes reading comments on major news sites’ articles and they’re always full of people making up theories that the article directly contradicts.

The first link is 404. Here's another link on the same topic: https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2021/11/fact-check-britis...

Fixed the first link, thanks.

The Lead Stories article sets up a straw man for claims not made in the BMJ article, then calls the story fake after debunking the straw man claims not made. The Lead Stories article is the "misinformation".

Both Facebook (now Meta) and Youtube bungled their fact checking by disabling posts and videos that were counter to some narrative, but not factually incorrect. That places them in a bad position, and they need to be called out publicly, as no other mechanism so far has pushed them towards more accurate fact checking.

I note how your comment has been largely ignored by... the massive numbers of Facebook and Google employees reading this site.

If there was an ounce of integrity in Tech these days, this would have been called out, front-and-centre, and remedies to it would have been enacted. Instead, here we are almost two years later, and we're pretending that never happened. In some cases it's even being memory-holed. I predict within 4 years, it will be common to call someone pointing this out some sort of rabid conspiracy theorist.

You cannot trust FB. You cannot trust Google. You cannot trust mainstream newspapers. You cannot trust the CDC. They got caught lying to you. Repeatedly.

Obey at your peril.

What did the CDC lie about? (Honest question)

About the efficacy of masks. They said they were not efficace to avoid hoarding and to reserve the small existing stock for medical professionals.

A lie is intentional. I'm not saying this is the case here because I haven't checked but if they believed that masks weren't effective then later changed their view because of new information or whatever that's not lying.

As a scientific organisation the public expect them to have opinions that are supported by data.

Already, today appealing to the autority argument while data are widely accessible is graceless. But abusing your expert position is outright deceitful. A scientific should be able to say that they don't have enough information to form a position.

I think medicine more widely is in crisis as they still have not incorporated the digital transformation.

And that can be seen even at your local doctor level. The patients are very informed (and often wrongly) and are coming to the appointment with a lot of data. A lot of doctors simply brush off those concern and go about with their standard diagnostic process.

What patients expect is that the doctor take their proposition at face value, congratulate them for listing their symptoms and coming with a lead, and repeat the process with them, pinpointing the eventual inconsisencies in the symptoms or simply offering them another diagnostic that is also compatible but statistically more probable.

That's the behaviour of the new expert, enjoy sharing informations and discussing them.

Am sure you can find plenty when you go down this rabbit hole but you can start here: https://twitter.com/us_fda/status/1429050070243192839

Thanks for trying to help out, but that's the FDA, not CDC. And this is a much murkier situation. Ivermectin does seem to help Covid, but it looks like that's correlation, not causation.

Astral Codex Ten has a great writeup on this, and a big controversial debate with the ivermectin crowd. It's pretty glorious, and I do recommend reading it in its entirety.

If you do want to call this a lie, I suppose I could see it. Someone claims something helps Covid, but it shouldn't, because it doesn't make sense, so instead of trusting the studies, they go out making a bold claim like this, that ivermectin is completely ineffective.

In any case, this does reduce trust in those agencies, when they ignore science and instead spout off politically-expedient dismissals of data.

But I wouldn't call it lying, really.

You are right. Had a brain fart moment there. Still a good place to check as some of these official statements from the two leading public health bodies communicate the agreed-upon response to the disease.

On Astral Codex Ten's piece, I assume you are talking about this one [0] The whole piece is such a doosie. Am almost sure 90%+ of the non-core audiences that landed on the page never scrolled to the end. If you are going to debunk a controversial subject, KISS. Not to say he didn't do a good job at poring through the numerous inconsistent data and studies carried out on the possibility of use of ivermectin for treatment. But am sure I came across some of his material on the interwebs.

Back to the source material of this post, FDA were completely malicious by tweeting that. Their linked post even goes to mention that taking ivermectin could be lethal for you.

What happens when the body whose sole job is to be the arbiter of truth and science regarding safety of drugs knowingly makes obviously dubious false verifiable claims? They are either knowingly participating in a lie or they are incompetent.

[0] https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/ivermectin-much-more-t...

Read on hacker news that Ivermectin is correlated with helping covid because often people with covid in developing countries also have parasites, so the covid + parasite can kill them. So if you give everyone in a developing country ivermectin the ivermectin will kill the parasite and they won't have to fight two things at once.

Turns out giving ivermectin (parasite killer) in a country where a lot of people have parasites is good public health policy. It's just butt stupid to use in a developed country like the US where ivermectin probably won't help people, but that doesn't stop people from taking horse dewormer in Florida :/.

". You cannot trust mainstream newspapers. " Which newspapers can you trust?

It used to be a pretty short list, like NYT and Washington Post. But since the Trump era... honestly? None of them.

I am literally unaware of a single mainstream television station, newspaper, or magazine that hasn't been caught in blatant politically-motivated lying.

My rule-of-thumb for news sources is: I need to see zero lies for at least two years before I trust them again. This is different than mistakes which are immediately and prominently corrected with front-page stories as big and bold as the original mistaken story. I'm unaware of any currently mainstream TV/newspaper/magazine that ever retracts their "mistakes" anywhere close to this standard as well. Hence, the lack of trust.

So where do you get your information? If newspapers can/will lie isn't that also possible with your source now?

Every newspaper is going to "lie" once in a while, there are independent people who write articles. What's important is reputation. The New York Times has been around since 1851. How many truthful articles have they written vs how many were misinformation or biased?

Since the longer a news source exists the more likely it would have lied you will only trust recent news sources? Like if I made a news website then published some random article and sent it to you, I've never lied before but I have 0 reputation are you going to believe me?

That seems like an easy thing to exploit if I was evil I could just keep creating random news websites and you'll trust them. If one is ever caught lying I'll just shut it down and make a new one. However how many "lies" will you believe until I'm caught.

> It used to be a pretty short list, like NYT and Washington Post.

I opened a post here the other day (or yesterday?), intending to reply along the lines of "Oh look, the New York Post -- the new 'paper of record', together with the Washington Times!", but by the time I was ready to start snarking, the post was dead.

While I agree with you for the most part, their responsibility should not be fact checking. That should be left to the individual.

They made themselves the fact checkers. If they're going to take the mantle of "fact checker", it is their responsibility to do it well.

On the contrary, it's politicians and old media who came up with the "fake news" slogan and demanded FB and others start censoring opposing viewpoints. FB is all too happy to help spread falsehoods and inflammatory articles since they both drive engagement.

No, "Ninety-five percent of Americans identified misinformation as a problem when they’re trying to access important information."

"According to the poll, 79% of Republicans and 73% of Democrats said social media companies have a great deal or quite a bit of responsibility for misinformation."


Talk about "fact checking" you just make a statement about what people think and provided no evidence to back it up. That's the main problem here. Also "old media"?

Thinking "misinformation is a problem" is not the same as thinking "politically biased corporations should censor what they deem to be misinformation in accordance with their own biases."

They only did it after being pressured by the same people that are now saying they should not have done it. It doesn't matter what they do at this point. They will come out as the bad guys regardless.

I think them being the same people is exceptionally unlikely

Seems to me that everyone agreed that Facebook had to do something about misinformation and that everyone is now outraged that they did. Where are the people defending the fact-checking they helped make reality? No, I think everyone just loves to hate on Facebook.

I never agreed that Facebook took a seat in the chair of fact checking. I’d rather, along with others, would’ve seen that Facebook got hammered with fines into obsolence for fueling the world with controversy and doing everything in their power to keep revenue on top of fact checking. In regard if facebooks approach, it is laughable what Facebook is doing on their scale. It is barely enough with the amount of persons, and the way they enable people to share as much shit as possible.

So in short Facebook is doing way too little and doing it wrong too. But it does seem like the cheapest option for them to keep the lawmakers at bay.

I mean yes, when asking someone to clean a mess they did make, and they do it as spreading the mess around, to make it worse, then you still allowed to be mad at them about that mess.


Please don't post this sort of shallow, grandiose rhetoric. It leads to low-information, high-indignation discussion—i.e. flamewar—i.e. the crap that we're trying to avoid here.

If you want to make this kind of critique, fine, but you need to do it with substance and not just turn up the volume knob.


what is the reason to assume that the way their system works for years is not the intended way?

Attribution of intention is extremely unreliable.

> Rather than investing a proportion of Meta’s substantial profits to help ensure the accuracy of medical information shared through social media, you have apparently delegated responsibility to people incompetent in carrying out this crucial task

Couldn't help but laugh when I read this. Good on BMJ for standing up.

Appropriate indignation and demand on BMJ's part.

Meanwhile, in the Stossel libel case, Facebook's lawyers allegedly 'claim that Facebook’s “fact-checks” are merely “opinion” and therefore immune from defamation.'

Late edit: 1) bold and capitalize 'allegedly' above; 2) in the response linked in a comment below, on p.2 lines 7-8, Meta claims the [fact check] labels constitute protected opinion; 3) it could easily be a libel non-case, especially as it is Stossel.

My impression is that Meta's distancing move ("third party" fact-checkers, with label/pointer linkage) is more solid than a claim, say, "I am merely the owner of the safe and the combination, your Honor, not the contents themselves." However, if someone such as Stossel wants to pierce the veil with regard to 230, so to speak, it seems a good question whether a prominently linked "fact check" has the same ontological/moral status as any uninvited third party post.

It's basically the same road the NYT is doing in the Project Veritas defamation lawsuit. NYT is also used as a source by other "fact checkers," including Facebook. NYT admits they published opinion as fact in a factual A1 page news story.


> Meta is alleged only to have superimposed a fact-check label on the Fire Video, describing Climate Feedback’s conclusion that the video was “missing context.” Stossel does not claim that label is actionably false—presumably because it is protected opinion. The conclusion that the video was “missing context” is necessarily a judgment call, one that is “not capable of verification or refutation by means of objective proof.”

Seems like a reasonable claim to me. https://wattsupwiththat.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Faceb...

Either you're checking objective facts, or you're providing subjective opinion. You can't label it as the former in public, but in court claim it's the latter. Legally, maybe, IANAL. Reasonably - no.

Good point; see my late edit directly above. Thanks for adding the link.

I am not a lawyer but that seems like some like a legal "gotcha" claim that most courts would frown upon.

They positioned these "fact checkers" as arbiters of truth. At no point in the past year has Facebook indicated that these were merely opinion.

Wow that's twisted

They claimed it was "protected opinion", now that's cocky!

> The quote in Facebook’s complaint is,

> "The labels themselves are neither false nor defamatory; to the contrary, they constitute protected opinion."

They should sue the fact checker rather than Facebook; easier and this will likely have the same impact on the fact-checker market.

They sued both Facebook and the fact checker.

Fact checkers fear being fact checked, is anybody surprised?

Fact checking is the business of publicly labeling as false those narratives that people with real power already viewed negatively. It becomes necessary when you lie all the time.

The whole notion of fact checkers is laughable -- who pays them? Do they still get paid if they 'fact check' their benefactors?

There is no debate. There is no invitation for refutation.

It's propaganda.

This all sounds good, but if I assert that the earth is flat on Facebook why shouldn't that simply be labelled false so others can avoid wasting their time trying to refute a ridiculous assertion? And if you agree with that, all we're arguing about is where to draw the line between "obviously false" and "disputed" facts.

> It becomes necessary when you lie all the time.

There are plenty of people lying and/or grifting on the other side of this power structure as well. There is some non-zero benefit being provided by fact checking, but it's certainly not an ideal situation. The real problem is virality. No one felt the need to fact-check discussion forums because those posts were not likely to spread to millions of people.

>This all sounds good, but if I assert that the earth is flat on Facebook why shouldn't that simply be labelled false so others can avoid wasting their time trying to refute a ridiculous assertion?

The issue is I don't agree with all that. Who cares if crazies share flat earth theories on Facebook? You either trust your fellow humans to be able to think critically, or you don't. And if you don't, then why do you trust them with power of life and death over you via the state and voting?

Because other lies are dangerous and I don't trust people to think critically. We also don't have a direct democracy and maybe that's what saves us most of the time.

>Because other lies are dangerous

And who has power/moral authority/whatever to decide that? There's no answer to that that doesn't lead to tyranny

There are solutions here that aren't predicated on that decision, such as shutting down the dangerous avenue to all data equally (though that would break the Facebook ad machine).

The point that a lie in this context can be societally dangerous is still very relevant. Next up is the frequency / commonality of these dangerous lies.

Yes, just look at the terrible state of Switzerland.

It's been quite a couple years. I guess it's the climate change. Now we are policing and holding higher grounds around what people can and cannot talk about?

You know, at some point in the history of this earth, people thought the earth is flat. Those who thought it was round were thrown in fire. Don't be that guy and let's not get there because it's easier than you think.

> If I assert that the earth is flat on Facebook why shouldn't that simply be labelled false

Isn't that implying that the reader is too ignorant to know at a glance? In the marketplace of ideas shouldn't that nonsense content just get buried anyway?

> There are plenty of people lying and/or grifting on the other side of this power structure as well.

Agreed. Lying is how you create something out of nothing after all.

I don't like being lied to but some amount of lying does seem to be necessary to maintain any control over a group of people and impose order.

> No one felt the need to fact-check discussion forums because those posts were not likely to spread to millions of people.

Exactly. The range and impact presents a challenge to their long held ability to unequivocally decide what is 'true' -- which is the authority's most critical power because this effectively creates reality, from which everything else flows. It's not surprising they are defending it so vigorously... they just don't call it that. They use phrases like 'combating misinformation' and 'fact checking'.

This isn’t a free marketplace of ideas though - thanks to dubious algorithms and recommendations, not all ideas even have a chance of being seen, let alone the bad ones buried. The echo-chamber phenomenon is like walking into a shop, looking at an item on a shelf from one manufacturer, and then once you put it back and look around you can only see items from that manufacturer. You get trapped in a bubble where you’re only ever seeing content like the content you just engaged with.

I agree that in a free marketplace of ideas bullshit content would get buried, but this isn’t how modern social media platforms work.

> Isn't that implying that the reader is too ignorant to know at a glance?

Yes. Have you been on Facebook?!? It's pretty much Ignorance City.

> In the marketplace of ideas shouldn't that nonsense content just get buried anyway?

Maybe it would... If the "marketplace of ideas" weren't a marketplace of sheep.

>This all sounds good, but if I assert that the earth is flat on Facebook why shouldn't that simply be labelled false so others can avoid wasting their time trying to refute a ridiculous assertion?

The particulars aren't the issue and never have been. The issue is, there's no "authority" you can trust to decide for you what is and isn't true. The particulars are of what's being discussed is a red herring.

Facebook, youtube, twitter, and reddit, all think they know better and you should trust them. It would be far less alarming if they didn't all agree with each other all the time. There's no significant political dissent between them. The present a single face. Aka fascism when they agree with the government, which they currently do.

How do you know the earth is not flat?, if it's merely because some authority figure told you so do you really know that the earth is not flat?

If you know the earth is round based on observed reality then why would you believe some internet rando who says it's flat?

Yeah, this exactly. Wonder why there were no "misinformation" bans for the MSM companies that repeatedly reported on unconfirmed, and later disproved rumors about Russiagate.

> We are aware that The BMJ is not the only high quality information provider to have been affected by the incompetence of Meta’s fact checking regime.

It is not an acceptable tradeoff that some high quality information is censored in order that bad information is policed.

How would it be possible for a system like that to be accurate all the time?

Facebook is a trillion dollar company. Spend more money on content control and content verification. Use intelligent humans and more of them. It may not be profitable but it will increase trust in the platform immensely if the fact checkers are fair and consistent. Not nameless bots or people that don’t give a fuck.

This is a one off mistake isn't it? I'd rather 1 good article get cancelled by accident if it mean 100-1000 disinformation memes or troll accounts get cancelled.

I'd normally agree with you. But in the case of Covid, some political actors are launching coordinated efforts to deliberately misinform millions of Americans in regards to a virus that has, so far, killed over 800,000 people here.

How do we deal with this challenge without censoring some information that ought not be censored?

I don't agree with the premise that censorship helps in the first place. If Facebook established a new policy that nobody's allowed to say bad things about fast food, and you saw an article explaining how fast food is healthy and good for you, would you trust it?

Ah, that's the tricky part.

It's not about what you or I would do, it's about what the median user does when the topic is public health and safety. And half of everyone is below average.

Erm, no, it's not. "It" is about taking principled actions, regardless of the outcome. "Outcomes over principles" is one of the most destructive and evil ideologies known to man, and the source for all kinds of tyranny disguised under the banner of "We know what's best for you". Censorship, in the sense of suppressing one's opinions and freedom of expression, is morally wrong, full stop - and even if it weren't, it's not even effective in the case of Facebook, because censorship just feeds (crazy) conspiracy theories and breeds distrust.

> censorship just feeds (crazy) conspiracy theories and breeds distrust.

I think we saw enough of crazy conspiracy theories occurring before the latest trend of service info-shaping to conclude that it's an independent variable.

Silicon Valley companies held the line on being agnostic media for decades. The result was a world that appears to have necessitated another approach, because bad actors figured out how to exploit the laissez-faire approach of the digital media to signal-boost crazy conspiracy theories, misinformation, and propaganda. It was the laissez-faire Facebook of the mid-2010s that allowed foreign companies to signal-shape a US election via paid-for advertising and micro-targeting [https://www.vox.com/2018/5/10/17339864/congress-russia-adver...].

No, half of everyone is below median :)

How do we know the misinformation from the authorities is not similarly a problem? CDC and FDA flip flopped so many times over the last few years. WHO and CDC were telling us not to worry about pandemics, and instead worry about "stigma" instead as late as March 2020.

https://twitter.com/DrTedros/status/1229137314074505216?s=20 https://twitter.com/WHO/status/1224734993966096387?s=20

Censorship is not the answer. It actually gives more credence to the persecuted/wrong and lets them gain more supporters. Just like we dont ban KKK or Nazi stuff, we openly destroy their arguments with facts, not fascism.

CDC didn't flip flop. They used the information they had on hand. If you don't like it then don't listen to it but they weren't "wrong" given the information they had at the time. We haven't actually ever been through this sort of thing in over 100 years. I trust them more than Fox, Trump, and Breitbart news. The secret is they are willing to change their interpretation rather than stick to their guns when the evidence says otherwise; unlike right wing media who continue to say it's just a bad flu and that we should just get over 800,000 dead people and quit being "wimps".

Did they, though?

Information of some kind of flu/pneunomia-like sickness in central China was available on December 31st, 2019, the day I learned about it from our local news media. Chances are the CDC had that information before I, a non-medical civilian, had it.

On January 15th, with me noticing a significant difference between what the Chinese said and what they did in Wuhan, I realised shit's going to hit the fan. I bought a few extra conserves when I was going for groceries, some extra toilet paper, started to invest in my home office situation, "just in case". Nothing too prepper-style crazy, but enough to be prepared. And - figuring that any flu/pneunomia-style sickness would also be commuted by coughing, I got me some 100 cheap masks, some nitrile gloves, for good measure (arguably didn't use them much), and some isopropyl alcohol for disinfection. You know, things that I see doctors using when they get into a potentially infectious zone.

No-one at the CDC, packed with medical professionals, watched Chinese news reports and did some "what could possibly go wrong" reasoning?

Around mid-march, people in the west finally started panicking. By now, what I got over two months, slow and steadily, they needed to get all at the same time. Suddenly, they realised that this is not just a Chinese thing. "Don't panic buy'", the powers to be claimed, "There's no need! Supply chains will hold". Well, today we know they didn't, and back then, people sometimes found themselves lacking basic necessities.

"No need to buy masks, they don't work", the CDC (and health officials around the world, with the exception of countries who use masks every time it's flu season) said - yet every single doctor and every single nurse I've ever seen dealing with Covid Patients go in like medieval knights in armor.

I've been vaccinated trice by now, having made the appointment for the booster shot two months in advance. "No need to do that", we (non-us) were being told. "there's enough vaccinations around for everyone". Well, right now over here (non-us), we have people standing in line in the cold for up to four hours, and vaccinations are actually running out quickly, because the former government decided to not order enough, let the next guy deal with it.

You are right not to trust Fox, Trump, or Breitbart News. But there's also no reason to believe news media or official offices on "your" side of the turf war. They will all lie to you. Watch like they are doing, closely, and make your own decisions.

So what's the answer then. I see a lot of "this doesn't work because x or y" but no one has any answers. The fact is, it's a lot better to police thousands of pieces of dangerous misinformation than to hide a few legitimate pieces. Like everything else, it's a trade-off.

> Censorship is not the answer. It actually gives more credence to the persecuted/wrong and lets them gain more supporters. Just like we dont ban KKK or Nazi stuff, we openly destroy their arguments with facts, not fascism.

Destroying their arguments with facts doesn't work, because they just replace them with new arguments. Since it takes much less effort to generate new but plausible sounding incorrect arguments than it does to refute such arguments, the misinformation wins.

It used to work back when distribution of ideas was slow or expensive or both. Those times are long gone.

They also don't listen anymore, thanks to echo chambers.

I feel this is the new "will someone please think of the children?" argument which showed up every now and then, with every other law officially meant to "stop child pornography", a goal no sensible person would dare to speak out against, but were later used for far less noble purposes.

If you cut out a man's tounge, you do that because you are afraid of what he might say - or that's what people will think. It's better to make better arguments than they do. If you resort to obvious censorship, you are just creating martyrs.

Why don't the mainstream actually inform people of all important facts? Them being trustworthy, will make people less inclined to believe misinformation. If you skip over important questions, these gaps will be filled with bull**ters.

"Fact checking" serves only to ossify the current view on any emerging discussion. Vatican "fact checkers" kept Galileo under house arrest for spreading "fake news", in a sense.

This is an unwinnable fight, the only reasonable response is to abandon the pretense that opinions are facts, and that most people can't distinguish truth from falsehood.

Fact checking is censorship taken on behalf of protected opinions. This is what Facebook itself has asserted in a lawsuit[1]. It is an political act, taken against political enemies. Schmitt would have a field day in 21st century.

> [1] https://twitter.com/disclosetv/status/1469331084550852615/ph...

> "Fact checking is censorship taken on behalf of protected opinions"

In this context, it is the fact checks that are claimed to be protected speech.

"Protected" refers to statements of opinions (as opposed to facts) being protected by law against allegations of defamation. For example, if I publish something as a factual statement, e.g., "Mark Zuckerberg is a criminal", I can be sued for defamation (if it is false). However, if I say "I think Mark Zuckerberg is a criminal", I can't be sued for defamation.[1]

Thus, Facebook is defending itself against a defamation suit by arguing that all its "fact check" labels are merely statements of the fact checker's opinion, not actual statements of fact.

In particular, the paragraph quoted in that Twitter post does not refer to any attempt to protect an opinion against "political enemies".

[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation#United_States - In particular: 'Defenses to defamation that may defeat a lawsuit, including possible dismissal before trial, include the statement being one of opinion rather than fact or being "fair comment and criticism".'

At no point prior to this claim in court has Facebook ever labeled one of their "Fact checks" as opinion. They've been passing them off as "objective".

I don't see how that's much different than a newspaper running front page stories that asserting that everything John Doe says is inaccurate then a year later saying "oh it was just our opinion".

I certainly agree that Facebook wants its users to believe that their "fact checks" are objective. But the quoted paragraph wasn't intended for the general public to see - it's trying to get a judge to dismiss a lawsuit against them. Facebook would like to have it both ways: credibility for users and deniability for people who want to sue them. I wonder if the judge will be convinced by their argument.

You couldn't have stated this any better or more succinctly. Well said. This is the reality of our current day situation in corporate news media, politics, and the sharing of information on social media with people we care about.

Imagine if CNN interjected in our in-person conversations with friends and family on nearly everything we said -- it would be a nightmare -- and on social media, there is no difference in its nightmarishness or weight, and to think that some millions of people are in full support of such interjections in order to protect their own narrative, because as long as someone powerful is watching out for them to prevent the high crime of "disagreement" viewed as dangerous bullying, they couldn't care less how negatively it impacts society, much less the other side of the aisle's freedom to discuss, debate, and participate in the broader discussions society brings us.

There's a lot of irony in nearly an entire political segment (leftists) in 1) supporting third wave feminism as a means to shut down, specifically men, from correcting others when they're wrong, or simply acting on one's behalf out of kindness (I ain't need no man), and 2) supporting the same behaviors by abusive corporate media outlets and paid commentators acting on behalf of social networks.

"Fact checking" as guard rails for protecting a narrative is (hopefully) a fad that will pass us by like bad fashion choices in the 1980's.

fact checking is a normal part of a normal news organization. They all do it and it's above board. I was briefly a freelance journalist at a major urban newspaper and here's how it worked for me:

- as I researched and reported, I kept notes about the source of every piece of info I got.

- as I wrote, I noted that source every time I stated a fact (using phrases like "according to")

- my editor asked me in general whether I had done all this - and during the editing process drilled down on several facts I stated and what the basis for them was.

- A factual error once crept into my story through the headline, which was written by a different editorial team. It was a minor thing, but it was a big deal, my editor was super stressed, and they issued a printed retraction.

- This was all inline with the general policy followed by a 300 person newsroom.

- Editor's year-end review is partly based on the number of retractions issued.

- The culture of the organization was such that if a known error made it into print, and there wasn't a retraction, that would be basically a scandal.

TLDR: Show your work, cite your sources, sign your name. Update content as new details emerge. Tada! Journalism.

Fact checking has only become a PR management tactic that arrived in the 2000's, only as the cost of sharing your mind rapidly became zero. Before the widespread adoption of the internet, you were limited to broadcast and print. You could pay for a license from the FCC, or license a station with cable or go and print and distribute your text. Very little incentive for non-commercial work and certainly no avenue for simply anybody to say anything in a way that can spread easily.

It was this way in radio, called wireless at the time, before the advent of the FCC and spectrum regulators.

If the FCC ever got regulatory hooks into the internet we’re done with web innovation.

Just because someone can use something to destroy and hurt humanity or smaller or larger groups of people or living things... doesn't mean we should let those bad actors have their way by not using them for good, which is the whole point.

Listen to yourself. You are allowing MSM to manipulate the meaning of things in your mind.

You literally just suggested that fact checking in general is bad and should go away. I know you think that everyone is operating under the context of malicious/false fact checking, but that is my point: you all have undergone a paradigm shift in which you allow the meaning of words to change based on false flags and what mentally ill people are claiming is "fact checking".


Everyone should be learning critical thinking and fact checking. Uneducated and vulnerable people need to understand this and see the difference between someone else doing it for them, and they themselves being able to see clearly what is happening to their lives.

"fact checking" is bad. I'm not sure what the good version of it you imagine. By "fact checking in general" do you mean pointing out when someone is wrong? The parent comment sees fact checking as one thing: propaganda used to shut down heterodoxy. It has nothing to do with facts or truth.

Fact checking is simply applying some standards to information. People do this in their own minds every day. Outsourcing it to others can be dangerous, but it's not inherently so. If you choose to believe something you read, you're placing your trust in someone else - a news organization, government, friends, family, whoever. If an organization set up for fact checking has published standards and list the violations of those standards when they deem something to be false or misleading, then why shouldn't you trust them? To be clear, I'm not suggesting Facebook fits the bill here - you attacked the very idea of fact checking, which, when done right, is a valuable thing to have in society, unless you just literally trust no third parties that present information to you.

If fact checking is bad, why are you wrapping it in quotation marks? Is there a difference between fact checking and "fact checking" implied here, and if so, what is that difference? Please elaborate.

In 2020, talking about the lab-leak theory was labelled "misinformation" and brutally purged from social media by "fact-checkers". In 2021, major news outlets started talking about it, and then it suddenly became ok to talk about it on social media again, and the "fact-checkers" did a complete 180 on the issue.

They're not checking facts, they're just enforcing the mainstream view. The mainstream view is often correct, but sometimes it isn't, and then the fact-checkers are just horribly wrong, and suppressing actual debate on the merits of an issue.

I think people kept it taboo for as long as they could because: people were literally dying due to low vaccination rates, which were caused in large part by such specious conspiracy theories. Fact checkers did not do a 180, it is still widely considered a conspiracy theory, and its very existence harms public health even if there's a remote possibility it's true.


“Some scientists agree that the possibility of a lab leak should be examined as part of the ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19, though they have expressed concerns about the risks of politicization.”

The Wikipedia article is frankly disgusting. The two options are natural origins or leaking from a lab and currently there is more evidence for leaking from a lab. There is no debating this. The Wikipedia article has already chosen a conclusion with no evidence and also is slandering the other possibility for political reasons while simultaneously saying that it can't be the other potential cause because it might be politically motivated. Absolutely disgusting. I expect better from Wikipedia

There is no Wikipedia editorial board. If you disagree with the article, you can engage in the discussion regarding it and make edits of your own.

This reads like a lot of mental gymnastics attempting to excuse the inexcusable.

You argue that blocking debate is a righteous act because the theory's "very existence harms public health". I'd counter that the gagging of a concerned public breeds distrust that is vastly more harmful than allowing debate would have been.

Unfortunately this wikipedia article serves effectively as yet another type of political "fact checking". Multiple virologists have stated that the only evidence in existence currently points to a lab leak. Labelling it as a fringe or destructive "conspiracy theory" is complete BS and it's not even conspiratorial, it's called a mistake and lab leaks have happened in the past.

there is no difference, I put it in quotes because its newspeak.

Fact checking is just censorship. It's literally a group that gets to decide what is an acceptable view and what isn't. How is that not just plain censorship?

You can certainly argue that censorship isn't always a bad thing. But calling censorship "fact checking" is purposely misleading.

Still waiting for the apology from all the people who said that this was all very necessary to combat misinformation and save democracy, and that any suggestions that this could possibly have bad outcomes was relying on a slippery slope fallacy, and not to be regarded.

This story is literally about a single instance. By that logic, a single instance where fact checkers proved something was false is enough to justify their existence.

As the BMJ article points out, Cochrane has had the same problem, and it's not like these are the only two cases. There have been huge numbers of statements by high profile experts and professors being labelled as fake news by journalism interns at "fact checkers". You may not be aware of them but this is a very frequent problem.

People just don't get that this is a matter of principle, not a matter of large numbers.

The truth being suppressed once is far worse than a thousand lies.

> By that logic

No, not by that logic. The logic is "some people claimed that claims of the possibilities of bad outcomes were instances of the slippery slope fallacy, and now that the bad outcomes were actually realized, they should apologize, because something isn't the slippery slope fallacy if things further down the slope have actually happened". That's not even remotely connected to anything you said here.


the truth hurts...if you care about the truth...

I don't think it's unwinnable; we don't want FB to arbitrate between competing scientific opinions, we just want them to blackhole Magic Healing Water and Covid Vaccine 5G Drone Tracker type bullshit.

It may be true that it's hard to draw a clear line between bullshit and almost-bullshit, but it's hard to draw a clear line between porn and almost-porn and they somehow manage to do that okay.

edit because apparently this wasn't clear enough: the way you distinguish science from bullshit is not by evaluating the claims (that's what I am arguing we should not trust Facebook to do). One is a money-making endeavour and the other isn't, and that's the basis on which they are distinguished. Even the worst science is not festooned with ads.

I'll say it again: "Facebook doesn't do a good enough job of evaluating accuracy" is a trap, and it's a trap they desperately want you to fall in to. If we get to the point where we put any value in FB's evaluation of any scientific claim, we're already into dystopian sci-fi territory, no matter how good a job they do.

YMMV, but I don't think social media companies have done well at all regarding the latter with erotic works.

Every single (semi)-erotic artist i know has faced a daily struggle of avoiding their work (and livelihoods) being demonetized somehow - whether it be shadowbans, straight up sudden bans, deactivations of accounts under false pretenses, etc. One could argue there's a difference between 2D art and "live action porn' but I'd say as an artist the line is a lot fuzzier than most think, as there tends to be a suspicious amount of activist work that tends to get shoved under the "porn" rug because it makes it easier to hide dissenting minority opinions.

This is a political fight. The mistake is believing in some sort of disinterested, unbiased institution adjudicating truth separate from influences of interest groups and political power.

The existence of power-centers like giant social media monopolies guarantees they are targets for political interests to hijack that power & censor opponents. Even if you could snap your fingers and magically populate these dominant platforms, and media/journalist institutions as well, with good faith actors (even here they are limited by their ability to actually know what is true), this wouldn't be a stable equilibrium and would in short order be populated and/or lobbied/pressured/swayed by political opportunists.

The difference is that one doesn't need a special education to identify porn. The average low-wage content moderator at Facebook likely does not have the scientific background to distinguish between bullshit and science. Case in point, this article.

That's a good analogy (bullshit -> porn), and we would expect a system that is working as intended to be having precisely the kind of animated discussion around what is bullshit and what isn't that this open letter from BMJ represents.

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