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Open letter from the BMJ to Mark Zuckerberg (bmj.com)
1599 points by DrHilarius 11 months ago | 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:

https://www.politifact.com/li-meng-yan-fact-check/

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.



Oof.

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.


> 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

www.facebook.com/?sk=h_chr

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.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/153


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

QED


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)

https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-malapropism....


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.

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/vaccinated-people-can...


> 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."

(https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-technology-b...)

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.


> 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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mbkd2yll14


> 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".

Stop.

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_lab_leak_theory

“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.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSc6RTDfqtk&ab_channel=Rando...

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.


Let's please not throw out the baby with the bathwater and dismiss all fact checking as political, biases, or agenda-driven.

Not agreeing on basic facts in the prime problem in our current political discourse. Disagreement is usually a good problem to have and leads to testing the complete problem space.

What we are seeing now, though, is the absence of the problem space exploration. Instead any discussion is just dismissed by calling the other party's information "fake news". In that fact-checkers are crucial.

Can the fact checkers be wrong? Sure. Could they have an agenda? Sure. Let's fix that. Let's not dismiss them outright as some of the comment here suggest.


Without getting into the specifics of any individual instance of fact checking, it is not at all clear that the presence of third party “fact checks” advances towards a shared understanding of “the facts”. It may be better for the state of the online discourse to have no “fact checkers” than for them to make perform in this way. And if such mistakes are inevitable given sufficient scale, that means it would better not to have such entities.


There is no such thing as fact-checking without an agenda. What would the incentives be? No agenda, no demand, no-one pays for it.


Is Facebook competent to be the fact checker? Demonstrably no. So, without necessarily having to judge the universe of possible fact-checking possibilities, we can say that what Facebook is doing isn't working.


I want statistics rather than "oh no they were wrongs once so let's just stop the entire effort" which is precisely what a lot of HN people are saying.


I think it's worth differentiating between "Reproduction Studies" and attempts to streamline the narrative and lets be honest the fact checking being called for and implemented in regards to social media mostly takes the form of "streamlining the narrative".


Who fact-checks the fact-checkers?


It is not a bug it is a feature. Fact checkers are just propagandists/censors under a different name, contracted out to deny direct responsibility.


"dismiss all fact checking as political, biases, or agenda-driven." But they most certainly are! Facebook themselves admitted that their fact-checking is opinion-checking.

https://www.opindia.com/2021/12/facebook-accepts-that-its-th...

Let's remove the term "fact-checking" and replace it by "facebook sponsored opinion"


Relevant: Stossel's lawsuit against Facebook for libelous statements against him contained in 3rd-party fact-checks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qmht6Tbtzg

2 of the 3 reviewers had not even seen the video Facebook labeled as "misleading". The other refused a request for an interview.


More context here, as I had to look it up and this one fits into the same pattern, but adds a layer of muddiness: https://variety.com/2021/digital/news/john-stossel-sues-face...

In Stossel's case, one of his video's is being very closely taken to their implications, and being marked accordingly as "misleading" and "missing context". In the case of the BMJ, the factcheck title is fully inaccurate and itself is misleading. The Stossel case highlights this nuance, but in the end appears to be a partisan test of the legal waters. Facebook itself has spoken on that one and has defended it.

Of note though is this passage:

> In a previous response posted by Climate Feedback to Stossel’s charges about the fact-check rating on the “Government Fueled Fires” video, the organization wrote, “Stossel complains that we should not have rated his post using a claim review of a quote that does not appear in his video. This is a misunderstanding of how fact-checking partners operate on Facebook. Given that many pieces of content posted on Facebook can separately make the same claim, it is not necessary to create a separate claim review article for each post we rate. It is, of course, necessary that the claim we reviewed is representative of the claim in each post we rate, which is true in this case.”

It seems like in an effort for efficiency, articles are grouped together. I wonder if some article citing BMJ made the inaccuracies, and then the source got grouped into the same article group. It seems like that is a corner that cannot be cut here. To the surprise of no one, fact checking is hard and trying to group things together will cause problems. It seems to me that the critics are right to point out that fact checking will simply not scale while maintaining accuracy.


> In Stossel's case, one of his video's is being very closely taken to their implications

What?


Facebook can't moderate shit because they are afraid to become a publisher. "Fact checkers" are as horrible as it sounds, power hungry censors. Reddit's zero-paid moderators are worse. Twitter's employees are constantly high on their own drama flagging everything that doesnt suit their favourite flavor of wokism. How the hell did we end up with this situation?

I want forums and blogs back.


IMAO, they shouldn't try. They should say, "Facebook connects you to your friends and family, and you should expect the degree of validity of information shared by your friends and family to be similar to that of the information they share with you in real life. If you want good information in your feed, hold your friends and family accountable for what they say."


To the extent they stay out of "editing" the newsfeed, sure. When they algorithmically (and silently) promote or demote certain things, all bets are off


Yes, doing that is also a terrible idea.


> We also discovered that, despite receiving a direct complaint about these problems over a year ago, the FDA did not inspect Ventavia’s trial sites.

This is where Facebook is going to stop reading and toss out the letter. The claims BMJ is making may or may not be accurate – I personally don't have the scientific knowledge to judge. But ultimately Facebook is going to always defer to the authorities of the jurisdiction it operates in over random third parties.


It should not. The First Amendment exists for a reason - so we don't have to defer to authorities.

The Democrats are responsible for this state of affairs: they have repeatedly threatened the social media giants with legal action lest they combat whatever it is the Democrats deem to be disinformation, which increasingly is indistinguishable from anything that contradicts what powerful government institutions deem to be true.


The biggest problem with fact checking sites is that they equate having insufficient evidence with being false. It’s like a claim in the ‘00s that the Government was spying on Americans. A fact checker would say false but we just had insufficient evidence to prove it… until Snowden came along.


> until Snowden came along

What about Mark Klein?


An oligopoly of walled gardens that control all information flow with little accountability based on opaque algorithmic operations and dubious business models is a bad, unworkable design, who could have guessed that?

A small minority of people here and elsewhere are tearing their hair at the insanity. In the meantime a tiny municipality in the Netherlands gives the go ahead for meta to build the largest datacenter in Europe.

Somehow once the giant wheels of societal regression are set in motion there is nothing to stop them.


Facebook themselves state that their "fact checkers" are not really checking facts, their work is opinion.


They shouldn't be called "fact checkers" then, they should be called "opinion police".


Thought police, then?


"The stories and information posted here are artistic works of fiction and falsehood. Only a fool would take anything posted here as fact."


That’s a legal distinction.


Is fact checking that difficult?

Imagine a forum that works in the following way:

1. You post similar to here.

2. Any post that has a claim is flagged. The poster, or another commenter has 24 hours (or some time period) to link to both a page and specific text (similar to how Google highlights search text when visiting a link) that supports the claim.

3. Once a claim is attached, posters can vote and downvote how well the source(s) support the claims (claims themselves are not voted/downvoted).

4. Sites are whitelisted and blacklisted by looking at the total percentage in which claims are sited with sources that are downvoted vs. up + downvotes.

5. Posts that do not receive sources for claims are deleted.

I feel like the only reason this isn't already done is because it was dramatically decrease the amount of posts and increase friction around posting. Posters would have to be careful to assert nothing in their post.


It's extremely difficult because the human psyche seems incapable of distinguishing "fact" from "that which supports my view", at least when the emotions are activated, and the only topics where people seek "fact checking" in the first place are the ones where emotions are activated. There may be exceptions—i.e. people whose minds don't work this way—but if they exist, they're so rare as to be no basis for social policy. (And I doubt that there are really exceptions.)

That's why there doesn't seem to be any fact checker whose calls aren't predictable from one of the major ideological partitions.

Another way of putting this is that the question, "what are the facts?" is complex enough to already recreate the entire political and ideological contest. It's understandable that people would like to reduce that contest to a simpler subset of factual questions—but you can't. Just the opposite: that apparently simpler subset reduces to it.


Excellently put.

> It's extremely difficult because the human psyche seems incapable of distinguishing "fact" from "that which supports my view", at least when the emotions are activated, and the only topics where people seek "fact checking" in the first place are the ones where emotions are activated. There may be exceptions—i.e. people whose minds don't work this way—but if they exist, they're so rare as to be no basis for social policy. (And I doubt that there are really exceptions.)

I think there are at least people who do seek to fact check their own views or dissents from their own views with genuine curiosity. But that's still a matter of degree, and even the most platonically curious among us still use the same monkey brain blueprints that we all do. They may do their due diligence more often, but never, ever always.


> Another way of putting this is that the question, "what are the facts?" is complex enough to already recreate the entire political and ideological contest. It's understandable that people would like to reduce that contest to a simpler subset of factual questions—but you can't. Just the opposite: that apparently simpler subset reduces to it.

Great point, which reminds me of 1960s "English Prime (E-Prime)", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Prime

> a version of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb to be, including all conjugations, contractions and archaic forms ... D. David Bourland Jr., who had studied under Alfred Korzybski, devised E-Prime as an addition to Korzybski's general semantics in the late 1940s. Bourland published the concept in a 1965 essay ... Albert Ellis advocated the use of E-Prime when discussing psychological distress to encourage framing these experiences as temporary ... and to encourage a sense of agency by specifying the subject of statements.


Very well said. And the only difference between community moderation and 3rd party "fact-checkers" is if the "fact-checkers" have a different average political profile than that of the users of the site.


First of all, even genuine, sincere upvotes and downvotes are not a reliable way to evaluate truth. Second, even if they were, such a system could easily be gamed by parties with political interests.


A local newspaper had instituted separate "I agree / disagree" and "Well / Badly argued" buttons to their comments section. This was, in principle, a good idea. It'd let people clap for things that made them feel nice but didn't exactly have much substance to them, and to recognize well-argued opposing points while registering their dissent. The system was, in theory, excellent.

Of course, nothing remotely close to the ideal use case happened, and banal nonsense was voted as being a good argument because the readers agreed with it, and good, carefully thought out comments got swamped in bad argument flags because they were disagreeable. People just rated on one feeling-valence and nothing else.

In the end, the paper canned most of the voting options, and the interface is left with "reply" and "well argued".


The up and downvotes are not there to evaluate the truth, the cited source of the claim is. No system can be a substitute for the reader to investigate themselves. The things I'm proposing basically just help triage your effort.


Well, yes it could easily be gamed by parties with political interests, but FB's system of fact checking is parties with political interests.


> Is fact checking that difficult?

Yes, it is. Years ago I went through a period of personally fact-checking stories across the board as they were being discussed by my FB contacts. It is hard to quantify just how time consuming this was.

Some stories were super easy to debunk. Others took days to weeks of research and sometimes mathematical modeling. Other stories took 10+ months to wait of legal evidence to surface. I remember one particular case where someone tried to burn down an black church and spray painted "Vote Trump" on the side of the building. The outrage and blame was immediate, massive and pretty much across the board. I looked at it from a game theory perspective. It just didn't make sense. It took some months for law enforcement to finally track down the culprit: It was one of the members of the church, black, of course, who had a problem with the pastor (or something like that) and thought he could burn down the church and deflect blame through his graffiti.

There were cases like this on both sides of the US political spectrum, of course. This is one I remember. A lot of the cases on the other side have to do with things like climate change and vaccine denial.

The point is, it takes a lot of time and effort. It's almost impossible. And, when you finally get down to facts, convincing people what they were told was wrong is pretty much impossible. They can't un-see the lie when it was carpet-bombed into their brains.

Not sure what the solution might be. Taking sides doesn't seem to be a good idea.


Of course, none of the current fact-checkers on the major platforms are doing anything like that.

I might be wrong, but I imagine each has a binder with a bunch of bullet points under each topic, listing common claims determined to be false by management. Probably some post-it notes holding new claims that their manager saw the previous day and didn't like.

Maybe the 'lab-leak' claim is scratched out.. it's permitted to be spoken of, now.


This wouldn't work, at least not outside of places like HN with a strong technical bent and a strong assumed knowledge base of the people.

I've done fact-checking work professionally; it's not that fact-checking itself is difficult, it's that fact-checking can only work as intended in certain information environments, and mass media is NOT one. I've also studied filter bubbles, algorithmic influences on political POVs, etc.

Your proposed system might work in a vacuum, but unfortunately, our modern landscape is NOT such a vacuum.

Issues with your proposed system:

2.) What counts as a claim? Is 'the sky is blue' a claim, or is that common knowledge? We clearly wouldn't flag common knowledge because using the flag when it's not necessary deprecates the usefulness of the flag, but then who decides what counts as common knowledge, particularly across different cultures and countries?

3.) A common metadata way of judging someone online is through their sources. Think of many subreddits which don't allow certain 'left-wing' or 'right-wing' sources. The supporting text will be upvoted and downvoted based on the readers' idea of the source: In the politics subreddit, a NYT 'claim support' would be upvoted while a WSJ one would be downvoted. Instead of using headlines as proxys, the URL would be: "Oh, it's X. They just always lie. Don't even need to check; downvote, nobody listening to THEM could be correct."

4.) Once the whitelisting and blacklisting go into effect and people are aware of it, the voting becomes even more distorted as certain people with grudges can both climb community hierarchy (and therefore put themselves in positions of influence and say things like 'we don't read X here, they're all liars') and encourage voting en masse to blacklist certain sites they disagree with.

5.) This is terrible for search and archiving as well as for tracking bad actors.

And that's just off the top of my head.


Wouldn't work here either. Just look at how the lab leak theory was handled on Hacker News. The community and dang both failed spectacularly in that instance. How many other instances have we gotten it wrong but just don't know because views here are as subject to ideological mania as anywhere else?


I've noticed the quality of conversations on HN have deteriorated drastically after dang took over. There're simply too many threads where the whole conversation is complaining, whining, dunking, outrage etc.

Anytime there's a thread on Netflix, there'd be a group of users who would start complaining about Netflix recommendations. Even when the article has nothing to do with recommendations. I am using Netflix as an example, this pattern you'll notice in many other HN threads.


> 2.) What counts as a claim? Is 'the sky is blue' a claim, or is that common knowledge? We clearly wouldn't flag common knowledge because using the flag when it's not necessary deprecates the usefulness of the flag, but then who decides what counts as common knowledge, particularly across different cultures and countries?

As a further point, what if a blog says "not a single cloud was in the sky" and subsequent facts show there was in fact one cloud in the sky - does that count as fake news?


> As a further point, what if a blog says "not a single cloud was in the sky" and subsequent facts show there was in fact one cloud in the sky - does that count as fake news?

I wouldn't say it's "fake news", but it would be a claim that would be deleted, yes.


That's also a common fictional phrase. What if it's part of a blog post that's a combination of fiction and non-fiction. Or it's quoting somebody, and that person in the blog post is wrong, but since it's a direct quote, it would also be untrue to change it? Or if it was true that there were no clouds in the sky when it was written at 9 AM but there were clouds at 2 PM and you don't know when the blog post was written?

And how do you account for metaphors, common fictional phrases and uses, in-jokes, and claims that cannot be verified but a person still has the right to make? For example, I have a lot of Web memories that pre-date the Internet Archive and Wayback. I'm not pulling my claims from nowhere, but it's not my fault they're hard to back up either.


> 2.) What counts as a claim? Is 'the sky is blue' a claim, or is that common knowledge? We clearly wouldn't flag common knowledge because using the flag when it's not necessary deprecates the usefulness of the flag, but then who decides what counts as common knowledge, particularly across different cultures and countries?

Everything, including your example. The entire point is to discourage people from making claims.

> 3.) A common metadata way of judging someone online is through their sources. Think of many subreddits which don't allow certain 'left-wing' or 'right-wing' sources. The supporting text will be upvoted and downvoted based on the readers' idea of the source: In the politics subreddit, a NYT 'claim support' would be upvoted while a WSJ one would be downvoted. Instead of using headlines as proxys, the URL would be: "Oh, it's X. They just always lie. Don't even need to check; downvote, nobody listening to THEM could be correct."

This is a good critique, but if one were actually implementing this, you'd also need to implement some way to verify that people are actually reading the sources (which in itself is already a big annoying problem).

Your other points are also good, but ultimately this thing I'm claiming would be niche due to the friction involved. If it were to not be niche you'd want to put in effort to "validate", or in other words have "trusted" (another problem) members randomly select controversial claims and verify them manually.

I don't believe a fully algorithmic approach, even with "the crowd" can work.


> Everything, including your example. The entire point is to discourage people from making claims.

Then you wouldn't have discussion, at least not of this type. It would resemble more a slightly faster version of academic papers as everybody has to read everything and becomes more invested in preventing themselves from being blasted for making an unsupported claim on accident than in contributing.

> This is a good critique, but if one were actually implementing this, you'd also need to implement some way to verify that people are actually reading the sources (which in itself is already a big annoying problem).

Right, but when you say 'we should do thing X' and when somebody says 'we can't do thing X without solving Y' you can't just reply with 'also solve thing Y'. For example, we should go to Alpha Centauri, but I think figuring out FTL travel is sort of necessary first.

> Your other points are also good, but ultimately this thing I'm claiming would be niche due to the friction involved. If it were to not be niche you'd want to put in effort to "validate", or in other words have "trusted" (another problem) members randomly select controversial claims and verify them manually.

I don't believe a fully algorithmic approach, even with "the crowd" can work.

Yeah, it might work in that particular usecase. Perhaps as an adjunct to academic listservs.


What a silly proposal. You can find plenty of web pages with specific text that supports obvious falsehoods like flat earth theory.


"When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. 'That is idiotic; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3' can be shortened to '1 + 1 is 2, not 3."

Your comment would be fine with just the second sentence.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Not really. The whole point of down and upvoting the sources is because the sources themselves might be erroneous. Without an infinite cascade of the process I described, relying on down and upvoting of specific claims is more tractable.

In other words, you might have a claim that's supported by an otherwise bad website, but the bad website actually has a morsel of legitimately factual evidence there. It would be up to the readers of the claim and sources to actually verify whether or not the underlying supporting evidence is true.

The other reason to do this is to build a corpus of "truth." Meta and Google are clearly capable of this, but choose not to do it for reasons.

---

This is why it's important that the claim itself is not voted on, but rather the source. Otherwise brigading will happen (it can obviously still happen, but is less of a problem in face of some hypothetical pure truth).

I'd also add that inherently the problem of "determining the truth" requires consensus. What I'm proposing is simply a way to make said consensus be gathered transparently. Obviously there's no oracle of truth out there for us to consult and some variant of what I'm describing is inherently necessary.


No that would never work. The flat earthers will all upvote each other's bullshit.

And you are missing a fundamental concept in that for most fields of science there are very few objective facts or proven truths. If I write a post on Newtonian physics should I be "fact checked" for misinformation if I fail to state that it's only an approximation and doesn't always give correct answers?

It used to be an accepted "fact" in medicine that peptic ulcers were caused by stress and spicy food. Except that fact turned out to be wrong. How would Drs. Warren and Marshall have rated under your scheme?

https://www.news-medical.net/health/Peptic-Ulcer-History.asp...


your example makes no sense - flat earthers are a minority, the cited claims would ultimately receive more down than upvotes. also, the point of the votes is to help readers understand things themselves.


No that makes no sense. Other people just ignore the flat earth bullshit, they don't even vote. There's no point to what you're proposing.


OK, nice discussion.


How do you present novel ideas in this framework?


> How do you present novel ideas in this framework?

In that framework you present novel ideas, and they are vetted, somewhere other than the particular forum.

While it is somewhat different in detail, it's conceptually a lot like the Wikipedia model.


Yes, it is very similar to what Wikipedia does. In fact I'd say the only real distinction is that what I'm describing in theory should enforce evidence far more strictly and on a more granular basis than Wikipedia does with articles.


Great question -

I'd say there are two main ways:

You have an assert that would comprise of many claims that are all supported independently by sources, and so you would then have a hypothesis and present it as so (as opposed to a fact, which would be a claim and require evidence, but inherently your idea is jus that).

You present your idea on another forum that's eventually made into a fact by empirical evidence and then later link to that, citing your novel idea. This as you imagine is somewhat self-referential and probably wouldn't work at scale.


I guess you present it off-site (your own blog or what have you), and use that presentation as source for the claim on-site.


Gather evidence for it if the novel idea is a claim


> posters can vote and downvote

Somewhere at this point it will get into "yes, he's a sonofabitch, but he's our sonofabitch!"


> posters can vote and downvote how well the source(s) support the claims (claims themselves are not voted/downvoted).

Great idea, however I'm not sure how to make so that the first doesn't degenerate into the second, especially about sensitive issues... Hmm, maybe this is one of the cases where prediction markets can work ?


The wealthy wouldn't mind losing money in that market to prop up the rating of their favorite propaganda outlet.


I cannot believe that this guy was fired on the same day he leaked to the FDA. This means the FDA reported him to Pfizer??

He blew the whistle on the following: some staff were not blinded, potentially unblind recipients, quality control on the paperwork, the patients weren't followed up with.

It just adds to my nihilism, tbh.


It wasn't clear from the original article whether FDA notified the whistleblower's employer or they found out on their own somehow.


So I have a theory (wild conjecture actually).

AI needs good training sets - that is large corpuses of data about a domain, which have been accurately labelled so the AI can learn safely. Curated content basically. Image recognition software is suffering from this as all the large corpuses are basically the same three or so.

When we move into the realm of knowledge about the human world, economics, politics etc. then having a corpus is easy. Just download reddit, twitter and 4chan. But having a labelled corpus is really hard and trusting one. I mean 4chan might be able to teach an AI but you would not want it to date your sister afterwards.

Journalism is basically a means of labelling the corpus of "everything" - and it is only trusted because "most people" trust what WaPo or NYT say. And the new generation of non traditional journalists (err, Captain Disillusion?) are doing something similar.

But there is no real means to decide what is a correctly labelled corpus or what is not. We have a long process of discussing the hard stuff - from flame wars to editorial letters to courts and scientific papers.

Ultimately if we think AI is going to help us manage the flood of information (and I am not sure how else) we need to put effort into training it - and that basically means journalism. Proper Nournalism.

It's not Facebooks job to decide truth. But is it the governments job? Is it everyone's? how do we build this labelled corpus at scale public ally and with trust and verification?


So what is your theory?


Journalism acts as a corpus labelling process for the slow AI that is society, also that most companies have an internal labelling process (we will trust these inputs from outside, and we inherently trust anything internal) - this also needs a rethink (ie that companies will need to have trust in incoming data whether internal or external and that labelling will need to become more explicit.


Ah well, with a smile on my face I remember that we just had the fact-checking discussion here on HN a few months ago.

Let me just say: This case proves that so-called "fact-checkers" themselves need to be scrutinized even more than the claims they are "fact-checking".


Facebook's relationship to accuracy is deeply poor.

At the fundamental "entity" level, Facebook continues to glaringly miscategorize the recording of social relationships between people as "friendships". Clicking a "Friend" button for a family member is an insult, and doing the same for a casual acquaintance can incorrectly suggest mutual admiration.


How do we keep getting this so wrong?

No central authority on truth. Not twitter, not Facebook, not the King, not the church.

The fact is that many of the “facts” that twitter, Facebook, and google “checked”, they were wrong about, and they are doing j told damage to our society.

Facebook is a company which, remember, performed psychological experiments on their users without their consent. Twitter has an opaque algorithm which appears to intentionally foment rage and misunderstanding.

Why in gods earth would we trust these people, whose entire business model relies on either subtly misrepresenting reality to make you more “engaged”, or just blatantly tailoring their entire service to make you angry, with being the arbiter of what is true?

Do people realize how insane that is? Twitter and Facebook, who appear to be using adversarial psychology techniques to make us angry, theyre going to tell us what is real? They’re going to be in charge of building the foundation of our being?

No.


If only we hadn't demanded it.


if by "we" you mean "entrenched political interests" then yes. I'd be willing to bet my next paycheck that "we", meaning everyday people who just want to occasionally look at pictures of cats or their family on Facebook, weren't interested in "fact checks". Just like most of us weren't interested in the algorithmic click bait they've forced on their users.


There were like 10k articles written about how FB is spreading COVID misinformation and causing people to not get vaccinated. You can't have both of these, which is the greater evil?


> which is the greater evil?

In the short term the greater evil is people not getting vaccinated.

In the long term the greater evil is erasure of free speech.


Why should Facebook be the platform where people post facts? Facebook has no responsibility of implementing any constitutional rights if they don’t want to. If people don’t agree with Facebook’s terms of service then they should use a different platform. This is what ultimately create better platforms for other types of discussions


The problem is that BigTech funded 'news' organizations will bad-mouth and deplatform these new and different platforms as soon as they pose any threat. Their domains will be seized(Dreamhost removed Parler), infrastructure will be taken out(Cloudflare removed 8chan, Amazon banned Parler) or they will be removed from app stores(Gab was removed from both Playstore and Fdroid).


Not just that, some actual Mastodon clients have specific blocklists that prevent people from using eg. Gab or Spinster (a gendercrit Mastodon server, as far as I know).


Parker and 8chan were pretty adamant about supporting literal hate speech from white power Nazis, (I say this as someone who had a Parler account and grew up with 4chan) on top of having terrible infrastructure for content moderation. I agree that free speech is important, but private businesses can decide to pull the plug if the want. It’s a consequence of speech.

I’m not a fan of app stores though. Google and Apple are monopolistic.


> Parker and 8chan were pretty adamant about supporting literal hate speech

Parler (?) did not support (!) it. They moderated hate speech. Maybe not 100% efficiently, but in response to some examples in media Parler AFAIR posted similar hate speech examples on Twitter, which Twitter failed to moderate out.

Not fighting literal hate speech was not their policy. And no moderation is 100% efficient.

What you are saying about Parler is false (and defamation).


“Fact checking” makes sense when “whitelisting” content, i.e. the New Yorker deciding that only verifiable facts are publishable. It makes no sense for “blacklisting” content where everything is presumed OK. It inherently assumes that Facebook can ascertain the factual truth of something which is just not true.


It is hilarious to me that some random people with no relevant credentials to speak of declare an article in a professional journal a "hoax", get their word taken as "fact" by Facebook and wide-ranging censorship decisions performed on the basis of that, and they also get paid handsomely for that (AFAIK selling services to Facebook and alikes is their whole business model). To make it even more hilarious, looks like one of the founder worked for CNN before as entertainment reporter - and we know entertainment reporting is the most scientific and fact-based of all reporting venues, and CNN is the most hoax-free of all networks!

By this point, anybody who relies on Facebook and their "fact checkers" as a source of relevant information on any topic is a doofus.


Fascinating that everyone is debating the efficacy of Meta’s fact checking and not even questioning that a single major corporation has supplanted the judiciary as arbiter of free speech and is being appealed to directly by the aggrieved. As RATM said: Wake Up.


The last controversial era where they allowed free reign of misinformation, they were criticized for being a spreader of misinformation. Turns out if you have a platform where billions or hundreds of millions interact, you'll be damned either way.

I'm unclear what the solution is but I'm quite sure no one will be please with either direction.


We're only going to see more of these types if incidents, right? As platforms[sic] farm editing tasks out to third parties (presumably to wash their hands of any sort of liability) there will be a problem of lowest-bidder-wins which results in sub par work.


Well, as long as we tolerate it. To the extent Americans (and others) live in a democracy and can pass laws to address social harms this situation is entirely our own fault.


Since most "fact" checking is legally a matter of opinion it's difficult to pass laws about it without running afoul of the 1st Amendment. We already have libel laws that allow private parties to seek damages in civil court for harmful false statements.


I'm always wary of throwing more laws at a problem. I'd much rather market forces solve it.


This seems like a statement of faith. Facebook, and the markets it operates in, have seen very little government oversight for most its lifetime. It's mostly market forces that got us here. I don't see any reason to think that market forces will improve the situation in the future.


I'd much rather put my faith in markets than any government. Markets persuade while governments enforce, usually with a gun.


Trusting corporations to behave requires trusting governments, because governments are the only reason corporations compete at all, versus simply collaborating and shaking people down like the mafia. You really don't want the monopoly on force to become a free market of force, that doesn't end well for the average consumer.


Agree in principle, but that becomes hard/impossible at the scale Facebook and friends operate at. Monopoly isn't the right term, but it's close.

I'd welcome laws that requires specific kinds of transparency and conduct at Facebook/Reddit/Twitter/YouTube user counts. Simply tie this conduct to S230 protections, and we evade all first amendment issues. The companies would do anything to avoid being responsible for the hateful, libelous, harassing, and terroristic content they convey every single day.


It's not credible to assume that this is a one-off instance of incompetence on Facebook's part, it's of a piece with all their other fact checking and moderation policies around this issue.


Fair enough, and if my original response made it seem that I was suggesting that this was a one-off I certainly didn't intend for it too - but I am willing to bet that the frequency of these will continue to increase and from more reputable sources.


The only fact checker I would respect is a court of law, whose purpose, in fact, is to discern and examine facts. IMHO, Meta (Facebook) should not be immune from liability with respect to its editorializing and censorship other people's communications.


Law is heavily driven by money. In many cases, certainty and facts are not reached at all. With enough resources, a large company can usually prolong lawsuits for years, if not reaching a favorable result outright.

Even if an individual had proven facts and legislations on their side, the court can still screw them up.


Facebook / Meta has argued in court that their “fact checks” are opinion and not subject to defamation etc: https://mobile.twitter.com/PoliticalShort/status/14696740408...

This position aligns with Meta CTO boz’s thesis of the “Platinum Rule:” choose personal success over authenticity. https://boz.com/articles/malcontents

The sad thing for BMJ is they spent so much time “investigating” and trying to criticize here. That’s exactly what Zuck wants—- any news is good news when you’re the dominant network. Following boz’s own advice (“co-opt the establishment not fight it”), BMJ should go after sanctioning the Meta board. E.g. file a breach of fiduciary claim with the SEC. Everybody should be doing that. False “fact checks” can legally mislead users, but you can’t mislead investors. Get Zuck and his empty metaverse vision out of there before Snap and Ticktok take he market.


History rhymes.

In the medieval ages, book production and reading were rare and highly controlled capabilities unavailable and unpractical to learn to most. Then Gutenberg and his movable type printing press came around, and suddenly affordable media production and with it, reading. People quickly learned that not only you could print books, but also (political) leaflets, and before long, you had all kinds of these early propaganda instruments floating around, some more outrageous or potentially dangerous than others, from commentary about the local counts's promiscuity to divergent religious or reports on UFO sightings[1]. This of course did not suit the powers to be, and they introduced strict controls on what could and could not printed, they set up censorship offices and heavily taxed or banned private, unlicensed movable type presses. We can only dream about what information, which plays, which artifact we lost because they never were created - and we can be thankful that censorship never works 100%, and some still was printed in secret. It took us 300-400 years and several bloody revolutions to get rid of these governmental controls - and it is a process that has not been completely finished in many parts of the western world.

Then, much later, the Internet came around, the Web being intended as a document store/sharing system for scientific information ("books"). Access to the net was rare and most people did not see the point in getting it ("reading"). But eventually, the system became more ubiquitous and with more non-scientific info around, people started to flock in ("more readers"). Simultaneously, publishing on the net became more approachable, and this made all kind of low-level information available, which sometimes was outrageous, sometimes outright dangerous ("leaflets"). And in the last five years or so, we have seen an increasing push to supress unwanted information (under the guise of "battling fake news") and opinion ("censor's offices"). And just like back then, we will see that censorship does not work perfectly - but how much information will be lost, how much this will hold back society.

This BMJ thing is a symptom of a beginning of things, things will become a lot worse before they become better.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1561_celestial_phenomenon_over...


A lot of the comments here appear to give Facebook some benefit of the doubt. Whilst this would also be my default position, let's not also forget that Facebook makes money entirely through advertising and Pfizer is a massive sponsor/advertiser [1]. There appears to be a massive conflict of interest here.

Also encase it wasn't already clear, 'independent fact checkers' are themselves not free from bias, particularly political bias. I find it deeply concerning that we allow some unaccountable authority to state truths, on very important issues that are heavily political.

In UK parliament for example, there is the concept of the 'faithful opposition'. They rarely agree with the government of the day, but what makes them 'faithful' is their opposition in good faith. Where is the faithful opposition to the fact checkers?

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlARrmWhHXo


I didn't see this mentioned as I scanned the comments, "Facebook Quietly Admits In Court Its Third-Party 'Fact-Checks' Are 'Opinions'" https://brjm.org/2021/12/facebook-admits-its-fact-checks-are...

For anyone who has not read Neil Postman's works, look him up. I'd start with Amusing Ourselves to Death but How to Watch TV News is particularly relevant. All his books are fantastic. https://www.amazon.com/How-Watch-News-Neil-Postman/dp/078611...


People forced this impossible task on Facebook and are now outraged about the results. Mark can't win.


Perfect success isn't realistic in this task, but FB's current attempt is very flawed. If their actions make matters worse than inaction, I'd call it total failure.


In 2018 Facebook "fact checked" a Babylon Bee article with this headline: “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine to Spin News Before Publication”. (Babylon Bee is a humor site and clearly labeled as such.)

https://twitter.com/Adam4d/status/969405110324523008


I hate Facebook probably more than anyone in this thread, but to be fair didn't they change their policy for satire sites? I believe they started adding a "satire" label (distinct from fact checking) explicitly to posts from satire sources.


That made me laugh. I don’t know anyone who would think that is a serious article.


A quick glance at: https://www.reddit.com/r/AteTheOnion may be enlightening/horrifying.


Laughing over these examples I had an epiphany: we need more of this, all the time.

If half the articles someone looked at were clear satire, people would have to think about what they are reading and who the source is. (Analogous to how we are being trained to recognize phishing)

For those that can’t figure out what satire is, A/B test content until we discover empirically how stupid something has to be before even they realize it is satire.


I know plenty


The people working in mainstream media - including the clowns at CNN - in the US are extraordinarily stupid on average.

A lot of media outlets ran with the (non-)story that Elon Musk was planning to quit his roles at SpaceX and Tesla to become an influencer. Musk was joking and very obviously so; and yet so many of them ran stories with tags like "it's not certain yet if he's serious." (CNBC for example promptly ran a story with that elaboration)

They're really, really, really, stupid.

In the US if you can't cut it doing anything else, you become a faux journalist. You write hack regurgitated tweet-based articles for Business Insider or MSNBC or CNN. Which also partially explains the condition of journalism in the US.


Counter argument: they knew what Musk meant but also knew the (admittedly dumb) angle that would generate the most clicks and chose to run with it.


Well, I used to think /pol/ was satire, but they managed to start a whole religion (QAnon).


“Something is wrong when the king needs to censor the jester”


Well... that seems to be working? The story isn't a fact. Got marked as not a fact. What's the problem?


"Repeat offenders will see their distribution reduced and their ability to monetize and advertised removed." Is the problem, a satire post by a satirical publication has been notified their distribution and monetization could be penalized as a result of their satire, because a 'fact checker' decided to identify the content and treat it like a news piece.


Maybe they should mark the content more clearly as satire to avoid causing confusion?


Just to be clear what you're saying, you personally, or for the sake of others, need satire labels to identify that "CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine to Spin News Before Publication" is satire? That is the statement you just made?


Well evidently someone somewhere was confused in practice... as they fact-checked it. People mistake satire all the time on the internet. It must be the single least effective way to communicate humanity has ever invented.

Maybe these posts should have metadata? Mark things like sarcasm, hyperbole, etc. People already do that here - with the /s tag.


Exactly - the Onion was the original satire site on the internet of which _everyone_ should be aware and Reddit has an entire sub dedicated to people who ate the onion without realizing it.


Even knowing it's satire, the headline makes an implication that CNN is misleading people by "spinning" the news they report.


Anyone who thinks they (and all the rest) don't has Gell-Mann amnesia.


70 million people voted for Trump. Yes, many people will read that headline and tell all their friends about how CNN is spinning the news. Have you not met many people?


Babylon Bee is already clearly labeled. How much more clear do you want them to be? Only a true moron could possibly be confused by such a headline.


> Only a true moron

At Facebook's scale there are very many 'morons' out there who might see it.

And this article demonstrably confused at least one person... as it got fact checked didn't it?


Does that not say more about the fact checker than it does the Babylon Bee? It's clearly a satirical site. It takes all of seconds to recognize it if you look at the site.


Maybe? Not sure it matters either way? I think the conclusion in both ways is: satire confuses people and it'd be good to mark it.


The Babylon Bee is like the Onion and is at least as well known.

While I agree that there are people who take ridiculous stuff seriously, they're beyond what a fact checker--or anyone else--can help.


> they're beyond what a fact checker--or anyone else--can help

I'd disagree. I think a literal huge 'satire' flag on the post would help.


It'd help on your post, too, but ultimately we live in a world that contains vagueness. I feel more comfortable not marking a post about a giant washing machine being used to spin news with a blinking SATIRE sign than your post, though, because I can't take it seriously.

That said, they clearly label the site as satire on the 'about' page if there was somehow any doubt that articles about spinning news in a washing machine were not serious.


When they are wasting time fact checking satire and also censoring facts from renowned medical journals, it points to some failure in the system occurring.


This comment has been marked as not fact, but opinion.


Have you seen the tweet? Facebook threatens consequences for "repeated offenders". So the point of fact-checking them is to accumulate enough checks to be able to kick in these consequences.


It'd be easier to identify Babylon Bee content as satire if they were actually funny


It was never at the level of The Onion, but I think it was actually somewhat funny back when it was primarily about satirizing American culture from a Christian perspective (e.g. [1]). At some point it seemingly pivoted to just going viral among a conservative/Republican audience, humor and commentary be damned.

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20160325165926/http://babylonbee...


To be fair to them, their targets make their job so easy that they’ve stopped trying.


This title seemed clever enough after the San Francisco mayor's announcement yesterday: Study shows that defunding the police increases police funding.


We don't need "fact checkers", we need educated people who can think on their own.


This is anarchy, and it's good.


I prefer to do my own fact checking.


You cannot do fact checking on articles that you do not see because Facebook decided not to present them to you.


good thing i don't rely on facebook for news


If Facebook is demoting these stories you may never see them in the first place. Then you'll have nothing to fact check


Can you not find them elsewhere, via Google?


and Facebook is under no obligation to show anyone any content that they do not desire to show them. There used to be a internet before Facebook. The content showed by Facebook was interesting, fun and something people wanted so people visited Facebook for that reason. If that has changed for you, simply stop visiting. The rest of the internet is still here and that content is still out there. It is not Facebook or anyone's responsibility to put your eyeballs on that content.


This is an impossible task. You are reliant on the opinion of experts who you should pay to take the time to evaluate the topic. We use to do this with proper journalism. But the internet has largely destroyed the industry.


If there is a topic I feel it is really crucial for me to evaluate then I will learn what's necessary to do so.


There's not enough time in the day for you to "fact check" every piece of purported information you come across. You're also not an expert in all areas despite your Gell-Mann amnesia. At some point you're going to have to rely on some sort of external "fact check".


I don't see the need to pay attention to every bit of so-called information streaming by. When there are topics I care about I will do what's necessary to form my own opinion, as I did with covid and the mRna injections.


Most people just believe what they read on Facebook without even clicking the link. Sucks, but we can't allow idiots to be propagandized by misleading titles. Unfortunately nuance is dead.


Who are "we", and why not?


Zuck and I.

Because we live in a democracy where being uninformed doesn't mean you have less say in the government.


That is how voting works. Should dumb people have the right to vote?


Yes, but society needs to do everything it can to get them to make good decisions.


"Fact checking" is newspeak for censorship.

If the Telegraph controlled the "fact checker" the Guardian wouldn't exist. If the Guardian controlled the "fact checker", the Telegraph wouldn't exist.

If you support "fact checkers", you are not welcome in my life and I will route around you.

You could, perhaps, consider yourself to have been "fact checked".


I consider my doctor a fact checker, and I certainly wouldn't route around them just because they had the extraordinary moral audacity to check facts and not report garbage to me. The BMJ also makes decisions about what is worthy for their name, and yes, that means they "censor" people from appearing on their platform.

You could say that one man's garbage is another man's treasure, but I'm not sure I would ever say that to my doctor.


Your doctor is, indeed, simply a fact checker. A real one. Much as I and you, I assume, are fact checkers; we attempt to determine the veracity of information we encounter.

Your doctor is not a "fact checker" in the newspeak meaning of the term, because your doctor is not preventing other people from speaking to you.


My doctor chooses not to be a facilitator of speech for everyone, just like the BMJ or Facebook. The difference is that Facebook is free to the users and ad-supported. That difference meant world-changing virality.

---

You had a deleted post talking about how I'm masturbating. It may surprise you that HN also "censors" you.


I can still read it.


Facebook is also not preventing anyone from speaking to me; they are refraining from giving some sources a megaphone.

If I want to know what the BMJ is writing, https://bmj.com is right there. Facebook is under no obligation to center it on my wall.


"A government that censors the press is also not preventing anyone from speaking to me; they are refraining from giving some sources a megaphone."

"refraining from giving some sources a megaphone" is exactly equivalent to "censorship". There's no difference.

Your argument confuses the prescriptive and the descriptive.

Descriptively, yes, Facebook is under no legal obligation to treat speech on its platform equally.

Prescriptively, Facebook is morally obligated to either assume full responsibility for user content (both editorialization and moderation), or no responsibility (passing through legal challenges directly to the user).

Additionally, as a de-facto public square, the principles of free speech still apply - a platform with more users than almost any single nation on Earth has citizens is morally bound to allow free speech.


A government which bans someone from speaking is preventing someone from talking to you. The government need not even consider the mode by which information is transmitted, or who is paying for these transmissions. If I am banned from sharing information such as classified intel, there is no means by which I am permitted to communicate this to you. A government which bans things also carries the force of government, which means laws, courts, police, and prison, which is typically the sole prerogative of government.

A public square is one which is funded and governed by public means, and the source of funding is one of the core mechanisms for ensuring that the public institution answers to public money.

Facebook is a private property, much like HN and the BMJ. That means people like dang, who also engage in banning, are not paid for by the government. Surely one's concept of public square does not entail private parties footing the bill for fancy engineers and metaphorical dang.

As a matter of prescription, why would we ever want Facebook to be the financially responsible party for public town squares? Why do we not have the government fund an actually public town square? Or ought we be using tax money to fund Facebook itself?


> A government which bans someone from speaking is preventing someone from talking to you.

I didn't say "prevents someone from speaking" - I specifically said "censors the press" because those are two very different cases (and because that's the exact language that GP used). A government could censor the press but not prevent private individuals from speaking to each other, so it wouldn't technically be preventing people from speaking - but it's pretty clear that it's still engaging in censorship (which was the point I was making to GP).

> If I am banned from sharing information such as classified intel

Classified material isn't covered under free speech. Free speech protects sentiment and expression. Classified information isn't sentiment, it's factual data, and it's protected for national security reasons, so as long as the material is classified for that reason, and not, say, to hide the embarrassment of a government official (which is illegal in the US at least), it's pretty clear that it's not free speech.

> A public square is one which is funded and governed by public means

I disagree. A "public square" is a forum for expression that appears to be open to all, styles itself as a public square, and has a substantial population in it. The CEO of Twitter, for instance, implied that Twitter is a public square[1].

> As a matter of prescription, why would we ever want Facebook to be the financially responsible party for public town squares?

Aha, that's a good question - we don't! Or, I don't - the problem is that it is a de-facto town square already, not that I want it to be (a regulated) one. Top of my wish-list is for it to not be that - for the DoJ to take it apart and/or force them to make it trivially easy to move your Facebook data somewhere else. (I suspect you share this sentiment) Unfortunately, because the DoJ appears to have lost its fangs over the past few decades, we're stuck with the Facebook behemoth - so, if we're stuck with it anyway, it's morally right for them to adhere to free-speech principles.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/video/2018/09/05/jack-dorsey-twitter-us...


You are free to define the "public" part of public town square as essentially popular, open and social, but that is not the flashpoint of disagreement. When people disagree on the boundaries between private and public institutions, they are not disagreeing over whether something is popular, open, and social. A public elementary school is not public because it is popular, open, and social, and neither is a mall.

Public funding is a critical component to public governance. Facebook is accountable to private money. There is a reason why people don't like the idea of politics being funded by private money.

To change that, we might talk about using taxpayer money to fund Facebook, and rather than mere rules for companies, we might talk about public ownership and governance of Facebook and not merely breaking businesses apart. Breaking Facebook apart is about dealing with free market concerns. Nationalizing Facebook is about recognizing that Facebook ought be a public institution.


There's a significant difference between the behavior of a private institution and the behavior of government. Indeed, a government that censors the press is the exact opposite of a private medium exercising their editorial discretion. One is violation of freedom of the press, the other is freedom of the press. Facebook is under no more obligation to uncritically pass through bmj.com stories to their customers than my local newspaper is to run a classified ad saying the paper's owner belongs in jail, no matter how much I try to pay them to run it.

Under the political theory underpinning the origins of the US, private institutions have different moral obligations from governments because governments have the monopoly on violence, not simply because governments are big and have lots of "users." Facebook can't force anyone to use Facebook, and their competition is always one click away.

Facebook isn't a "public square" because it has no local geographic monopoly on space; it's the Internet, we have our choice of internet fora. This differs from the physical world, where one can't easily just go to the next public square over if the use of the nearby one is curtailed (hence the need for legal theory enacting the concept of "de-facto public square"). There's a problem if Facebook is the only online forum. But the solution to that is anti-trust law, not the government dictating what Facebook may not refrain from rebroadcasting via its network. Trying to solve the legitimate concerns of discourse manipulation via modification to First Amendment protections opens a Pandora's Box that is almost certainly best left closed (for starters: given the customer behavior we currently see, one could infer that people use Facebook because they like the signal-tuning. Stepping on the neck of Facebook's ability to signal-tune in a heavy-handed way risks driving users to alternative services that don't operate out of the US and therefore aren't beholden to any concept of First Amendment protections, for good or ill).


That’s not true. Facebook actively censors certain URLs from being shared in a DM on Messenger and WhatsApp. How is that any better than the “Great Firewall of China”?


China bans content through government policy, and government policy carries the force of government which applies to all public and private parties. The force of government means laws, courts, police, and prison, which is typically the sole prerogative of government.

HN, BMJ and Facebook pay for their expenses as private parties and may not wish use their money to help you broadcast your speech. The main difference between HN and Facebook is that Facebook is Very Big.

If your idea of free speech means that either HN or Facebook must pay for a metaphorical Dang and other fancy engineers to maintain your free speech...


Yes they are.

There are people who you cannot write personal messages to on facebook/messenger. They have to write you first, otherwise all your messages to them are marked as sent, not delivered and eventually seen, just sent.

I assume that political idelogy of aforementioned persons is obvious. And these people are not some no-names.


If you're describing me, those people are free to reach me via an alternate method. Facebook is not obligated to facilitate it.


It should not be legal to advertise the possibility of messaging someone, if that someone will not be able to receive the message.

edited to add:

Those poeple have facebook profiles, post stuff publicly, you can comment, tag and all that. Except private messages. All private messages are silently undelivered. No error, only sent.


> It should not be legal to advertise the possibility of messaging someone, if that someone will not be able to receive the message.

Unless I'm misinterpreting what you're saying, you seem to be saying that shadowbans should be illegal. Or at least, I don't see how any law that would prevent shadow delivery wouldn't prevent shadowbans. So I think we'll have to agree to disagree.


Would fedex shadowban be ok too?

They take parcels, give tracking numbers, but those specific persons never receive anything. Tracking is always stuck on "parcel enroute".

edit: clarified wording, to make it clear that fedex shadowban is a hypothetical situation


If they take my package, never deliver it, and claim they delivered it, that's theft of tangible property, punishable by state law (and federal, if they messed with interstate commerce).

There is no such "theft of information" for failing to route a data packet, nor should there be for obvious reasons.

Better analogy would be if a newspaper took money to run my ad but never ran it. Also theft, or at least try-able in civil court for failure to render service.

... But if they take a message from me, for free, on the understanding they'll route it and never route it? Much, much grayer legally. I have to prove harm and that they had a legal duty they abrogated. Neither are obvious regarding Facebook DMs.


OK, what about letters instead of parcels? It's not for free either, it's paid for by the metadata. They ask for a recipient, you tell them the recipient and they say ok, will deliver, but never do.


> It's not free either, it's paid for by the metadata

That's one of the things that could be argued in a court of law... That it was wrong for Facebook to collect data from someone on the false pretense that they would send a message they would not send. I wish the plaintiff who argues it the best of luck... Hell of an uphill battle. The notion data about a person has tangible value that belongs by default to the person and can therefore be exchanged is an open question (legally and morally). And there's still the issue of proof of harm. In fact, that's the biggest issue.

If a person thought they had communicated something via Facebook and Facebook falsely claimed it was sent when it was not, and that person could prove material harm as a result, they might have a civil case to rectify the specific harm. I struggle to imagine such a scenario, but I'll assume it could happen for the sake of argument. "Facebook silently black-holes your attempts to contact a celebrity" as an example, is not harm.


Does your doctor have a monopoly on speech? Does your doctor go around and tell people what to say and not say? Does your doctor have the authority to disallow other doctors from practicing? Is your doctor the only doctor you're allowed to go to, or can you just go to another one if you're not satisfied about their competence?

This reasoning by analogy doesn't really go anywhere.


No not in general.

There are facts. There are ways to make rational arguments based on those facts.

Those arguments don't have to be the same, or even produce the same results to be useful - because they state their basis and how, based on that they produce their conclusions.

That is a really useful and powerful thing.

> If the Telegraph controlled the "fact checker" the Guardian wouldn't exist. If the Guardian controlled the "fact checker", the Telegraph wouldn't exist.

Why? Having a fact checker that explains (even arguably incorrectly) why something is wrong isn't censorship.

A newspaper could be a factchecker (and sometime are) - if they explain their reasoning, or have some transparent way to see their reasoning.

This feels like a 'let perfect be the enemy of the good' type situation. Fact checking doesn't mean everything will be correct. It doesn't need to. Much like science doesn't claim to have the correct answer for everything - it's to the best of our knowledge based on the scientific method.


It's one of those language things. Newspeak necessarily requires co-opting the good meaning of a work in order for it to work. I am doubtful OP dislikes the true meaning of fact-checking but what "fact checking" has become in this modern age.


The problem is that there are two interpretations of "fact-checking is bad" which are not mutually exclusive:

(1) "Fact-checking" is a term used by people who are not interested in facts, but just want to control a narrative.

(2) Convincing the public that "fact-checking" is always done in bad faith is in the interest of people who do not want to actually be fact-checked, but rather want to control a narrative.

Well, that's one problem. The other problem is that (2) has the potential to be far more pernicious: it dismisses the possibility of material difference between real fact checks and propaganda disguised as such. "Fact checkers may have their own agendas" can be true without leading us to "therefore no facts should be checked." If we choose the latter, then we have largely given up on the possibility of facts at all, and we are, not to put too fine a point on it, well and truly fucked.

In the case of this BMJ article, it looks like there are reasonable questions as to whether the authors truly make a case that supports their conclusions. There's a comment from PaulDavisthe1st somewhere around here that links to both the actual article and the fact check, and it at least seems a bit more complicated than "THE BMJ IS BEING SUPPRESSED BY THE ELITES WHO DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW THE TRUTH, MAN," which is a distinct vibe I get from the comments.


The entire idea that there should be a narrative is the issue here.

"Fact checkers" attempt to produce a coherent narrative and force one side to win out.

But not all issues can be decided in that way.


fact.


[citation needed]


The emergent truth inherently obvious to those with reliably observation, pattern recognition, cognitive ability is far more reliable than the knowledge preached by academic priests from within ivory towers. The rejection of "fact checking" is a rejection of the academic model of institutional knowledge in general. Science (not empiricism mind you, but "science" as a class of researchers and Phds) has been found wanting and the masses no longer trust it.

TLDR, citations are for those who are incapable of making the arguments themselves and must outsource their very thought to other men they unquestioningly revere.


"Fact Checking" is effective clickbait. Just claiming something is a hoax generates more engagement than claiming something is factual. Humans have a bias towards believing claims that wrongdoing has occurred (self-preservation / avoidance of harm). It is in Meta's commercial interest to hire people to flag stories as a hoax in an entertaining way that gets eyeballs (like a giant red stamp that says "Flaws Reviewed").


I'm happy that Nikola Tesla didn't lived in such world. Fact-checkers are dangerous option, especially when backed-up by capital and/or politics.


I'd rather live in a world with fact-checking than in a world with gene-checking:

»The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct ... The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny.«

- Nikola Tesla, 1937


This is another subject, about old NT mind before he passed away, different from theme here, and it's not to discuss further. I'm reffering to his productive days. You can take any free minded, stubborn man instead, whose ideas changed the world.


The idea that Meta does any meaningful fact-checking would be a hilarious joke if it weren't such a shameless insult to real fact-checkers


I get the feeling that much of the problem is the Facebook (also Reddit, etc) were originally set up as social networks, but they've sort of become news sites for a lot of people. This didn't matter so much when the news being shared are baby pictures and new music, but it does matter when the news is about vaccines or who actually won the election. Social networking sites aren't set up to verify facts, and it shouldn't be their role to verify facts.

I absolutely do want my news sites to verify facts rather than serving up stories to confirm my existing beliefs so they can sell advertising space.


Television was also supposed to solve corruption and injustice. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. It all went downhill when that box started broadcasting fart jokes.


This has been a concern of mine since fact checking became the tool of political ideologues.

Many of my professional friends have either left mainstream social media or have become much less active.

Not only has this destroyed the credibility of science but has created vicious polarisation of people and destroyed friendships and family relationships.


To all on social media. Enjoy your filtered, prescriptive, fact checked approved me feed with just the right amount of anti establishment to keep you from getting up or of your seat.

Frankly why any platform can be allowed to decide the worthiness of an article themselves is beyond me.

If FB were citing some insane group who score publications/data publicly and openly based on their content is say they're guilty of nothing more than trusting a trusted information outlet. (I'll even accept that the JDL is probably more open than this and they get triggered by small green reptiles)

Now that Facebook is deciding what is worthy to be deemed "truth" it has entered firmly into the arena of editorialism. Of course FB want this, it is practically the last brick of the wall around the garden of it's user-base. But it should be something that is illegal as it's clearly broaching on anti-competition territory.

(This unfortunately exposes a problem in tech from the monopoly argument. There is always an alternative people can move to, that is not, and should never be, an excuse for crap behaviour by crap companies)


As a matter of fact, the real question here is… “What IS a fact?”

Nobody is asking this. And that is the first problem here.


Nobody is asking that because most people aren’t in a 101 philosophy class.


It depends on what the definition of the word "is" is.


I'm 20ft tall


Who has the truth?

"Fact checking" is just a narrative device, to present something as authoritative.

The reality is that even for obvious, physical phenomena, whenever there is any complexity, you cannot know the truth. There are all sorts of buried assumptions and theoretical knowledge.


Did the ancient Greeks have factcheckers ? I always wondered how they debated without “fact-checking” and muzzling the crap out of other side, yet produce wisdom that stood test of time

> Boyer 1991, p. 119 notes, "The Elements of Euclid not only was the earliest major Greek mathematical work to come down to us, but also the most influential textbook of all times. [...]The first printed versions of the Elements appeared at Venice in 1482, one of the very earliest of mathematical books to be set in type; it has been estimated that since then at least a thousand editions have been published. Perhaps no book other than the Bible can boast so many editions, and certainly no mathematical work has had an influence comparable with that of Euclid's Elements".

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euclid's_Elements#cite_note-...


> yet produce wisdom that stood test of time

Most of it is survivor bias. I'm sure they claimed plenty of stupid things too, those just didn't pass though over two thousand year filter.


Facebook does fact checking because people decided to blame them for misinformation rather than the people actually doing it. Their customers demanded that they take action, so whether or not the action is useful, they were required to do so.


> Their customers

Which should be pointed out isn't the same as Facebook's users. Facebook's customers are powerful entities that already have nearly unlimited access to promote their messages. What upset them was the ability of others to also push messages, some of which were inconvenient to the powerful. What Facebook's customers are demanding is that only messages they approve be heard.


The algorithmic news feed incentivizes misinformation in a way that the old chronological feed did not. Facebook absolutely helped to create this situation in the first place.


This is basically them trying to fix the money printer in a way that doesn't involve turning off the money printer.


If FB/Meta is in conflict of interest with big pharma and politicians trying to peddle drugs - this justifies deeper investigation.

FB being so insistent to censor posts regarding side effects and vax concerns - justifies deeper investigation.


HN is also complicit. I learned about the BMJ letter (https://www.bmj.com/content/375/bmj.n2957) from the HN article https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29582147

As you can see, it is gone, practically in a few minutes after I had read it. Why? Is it because HN is a tech website and this not related to tech? Even though there are many articles related to covid?

Or is it because BMJ articles are meant for healthcare professionals? I am also a healthcare professional but don't have time to read all journals and sometimes I rely on blogs and even HN to bring the most interesting articles to my notice.

The third possibility is that some HN voters don't want to admit possibility that the current political establishment was wrong about vaccine mandates. Or at least that some respectable healthcare professionals are against them.


Users flagged the post you're linking to. We didn't see that one. I probably would have turned off the flags if I had seen it.

Be careful not to draw excessively general conclusions from these data points. The current post, for example, spend 22 hours on HN's front page. That's as much exposure as anything gets here.


My own experience with Facebook's fact-checking:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28411734


I get the amount of pressure Meta and probably youtube were going through when discussions around vaccines were rampant, but the narrative only started to change once pressure was built up into top news sites. For example, the lab leak theory. Yes, it's inconclusive and so complicated that even if Wuhan's lab would be fully transparent, I doubt you would be able to fully connect the dots. Anyways, even those discussions were getting banned until major news articles decided it was okay to talk about and only because independent journalists had built so much pressure that they finally caved. I don't know about the right trade-offs in this space, but all of this is so transparently anti free speech and obviously rigged that it just doesn't feel right.


BMJ has shown a lot of integrity throughout the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

They have repeatedly questioned the claims of vaccine makers, especially Pfizer, in a way that no other serious publication, scientific or corporate, has.

They platformed the many experts who called into question the evidence basis for masking children in schools, for closing schools, for lockdowns, and several other now obviously failed mitigation strategies at a time when Nature and Lancet had already moved their gaze elsewhere, almost completely failing to catalog the collateral damage.

This is incredibly strongly worded for a medical journal, but no more strongly than is warranted:

"These materials revealed a host of poor clinical trial research practices occurring at Ventavia that could impact data integrity and patient safety. We also discovered that, despite receiving a direct complaint about these problems over a year ago, the FDA did not inspect Ventavia’s trial sites."

...

"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."

BMJ platformed this particular whistleblower at a time when the facts revealed (most obviously the unblinding) were already the subject of widespread speculation in expert circles, but were magnetically drawn to the memory holes of mainstream social media by 'fact checkers'.

And now, with Facebook having demonstrably used its editorial discretion and censorship to protect Pfizer's reputation and profits, BMJ has carefully taken them to task in a way that we might expect traditional journalists to do, but haven't.

When we look in our rearview mirror at this pandemic and ask ourselves how we can ensure that the next one doesn't provide for states and corporations to go on vulgar grabs for money and power at the expense of the most marginalized in society, BMJ's relatively progressive position on these matters in the past two years will offer a substantial portion of that playbook.


Fact checking was an innocent thing back in 2008 and 2012 when it was almost solely about fact-checking objective numbers brought up by party candidates in national debates. "The GDP grew by 2.5%!" False, 2.3%. That worked fine.

But the Murray Gell-Mann amnesia effect infected fact-checking, and turned fact-checking into an extreme danger to democracy (ironic, considering it's supposed to "save democracy"). Fact-checkers are not subject experts; they all seem to believe that you can get to the "truth" after half an hour of Googling. That's not true! Even domain experts might need weeks or longer of research to reach a confident opinion on a topic, and that's with a very strong and wide knowledge foundation.

An obvious impact of fact-checkers' universal Dunning-Krugerism is that they end up biased against certain facts, if they believe those facts to be "promoting harmful narratives". If people hear about Pfizer's mistakes, they might not want the vaccine, so they're biased towards suppressing the BMJ article.

Fact-checking leads to implicit (if not deliberate) paternalism, where information is only allowed to spread if it has no negative connotations. Unfortunately, that means no scrutiny for the FDA, for Pfizer, and a democracy that decays even further. I could give comical examples of recent incorrect fact-checks on European television, where mistake were all biased against narratives that would have harmed the centrist government.

Corporations like Facebook, Twitter and Facebook just shouldn't have this much power.

Could a grassroots cultural movement like the 60s happen again today? One that's anti-authority, anti-elite? Not a chance in hell, not just because of fact-checkers, but because of how much cultural power has been taken from the people. The elites made sure of that: even music, which was at the very heart of these cultural movements, is now controlled by unchecked corporate power. (And the consequences are disastrous: pre-pandemic, 40% of young people felt chronically lonely; atomization is inevitable in a heavily "controlled" and restrictive culture.)


> As current and incoming editors in chief, we are responsible for everything The BMJ contains.

And here lies the crux of the issue : Facebook (and other Meta services) currently don't.

While since they decided that they wanted to moderate themselves what people were posting on their websites, and they are neither a small service, or a nonprofit (or potentially other attenuating circumstances), they should be responsible for everything that Facebook (et al.) contains.


> As current and incoming editors in chief, we are responsible for everything The BMJ contains

That's also not a very honest claim in such broad sense of term "responsible" that we usually use when we talk about what Facebook does.

Was Lancet responsible for publishing Andrew Wakefield paper? Yes. Does it try to pay for damages suffered by every person who had infectious disease with severe outcome that was a result of people not taking the vaccine because of modern anti-vaccine movement this paper has spawned? No.

They are responsible for what they wrote. Not for what people reading it did. But when we talk about Facebook we want it to be responsible for all societal impact. So the people shouldn't be surprised that Facebook might not only consider if something is true or accurate, but also if it remains so in the heads of the readers. Because we expect Facebook to consider it.


To be more clear, I do not want Facebook to be responsible for societal impact, but rather to not even be able to exist because any for profit company that tried to pull this kind of widespread power over communications would have its growth ground to a halt by having to constantly defend itself against legal charges.


Anyone who thinks it make sense to outsource their epistemics is probably correct, but not in the way they think.


Everyone wants/needs to be the hero of their narrative. Facebook is no different. At some point, they will get over themselves or go out of business, hopefully before they do even more damage.

They've already admitted that their "fact checks" are opinion. Why the false advertising, then? I guess the word 'fact' can mean what they want since they have the megaphone and the cancel button.


Thanks to user sceutre for finding this link/commentary, which really deserves to be at the top of this entire comment page:

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/what-the-heck-happened-to-t...

It's not definitive (nothing in a case like this will be), but is provides way more context for both the particular BMJ article and also recent history at the BMJ in general.


Could rogue "fact checking" be considered Defamation on the part of Facebook?


This is why "fact checker" is a useless job for power tripping jannies.


Facebook's actions increasingly resemble those of a traditional media company. They make editorial decisions about what to promote via their algorithms and fact check posts. I wonder if there's a risk of them losing section 230 protection if they continue down this path.


I think they're already there. Further, I think section 230 protection should be limited to smaller companies.


Most fact checkers don't check facts, they manufacture context.


So basically everyone's worst fears back when "fact checking" was being introduced were realized - fact checkers becoming thinly veiled political censors that only allow certain narratives through regardless of the actual nuance/truth.


How often are “open letters” actually read by the imputed recipient?


After reading both articles, I am skeptical about the BMJ article.

It paints a bad picture, but it doesn't seem to answer overall picture about the vaccine. Namely, was there testing done by other people for the vaccine?

Misinformation doesn't have to be completely made up. The worst misinformation is carefully selected parts of the truth.


These people really annoy me.

Yes, there may be some data integrity and procedural integrity issues with one, or two, or even three of the hundred plus sites/contractors used to collect data on any given vaccine trial. However, by using modern statistical methods, and auditing, we minimize the impact of these possible errors.

In addition to this, the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer has now actually left trial and been ADMINISTERED TO MILLIONS OF PEOPLE!!!!! So we actually have data now, in some cases from 6 months ago and longer, showing that, at least for effects that are short term visible, there is very little to worry about. How do we know this .... THROUGH ACTUAL MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF VACCINATION DATA IN THE GENERAL POPULATION. The trial data is LESS AND LESS RELEVANT.

This BMJ may have been a reputable publication at some point ... I'm not going to assume it wasn't ... but if you read the study and the article posted you'll very soon realize that this is some shoddy bloody journalism. AND, YES, it will misinform people, because Joe Rogan and the like do not apply suitable skepticism when considering the claims of these "scientific skeptics".

I wish everyone could actually take the time to read these long medical articles. But most people can't. I happen to be working on a project where I have to occasionally read and digest "fact finding" content to judge its accuracy. And even I am growing exhausted with what I have a financial interest in doing, because of the sheer stupidity of the interpretations of data by the Joe Rogan crowd ... and it's always something you need to dig a layer deep to uncover too. So sometimes reasonable people without free time can get bamboozled because Rogan and Co. seem to have neocortexes that operate with some strange parameters.

P.S. In general I agree that "fact-checking" is a bad idea. I prefer crowd-sourced fact-checking from a community ... basically like Hacker News comments. A lot of fact-checking is just mirroring the prevailing political mood.


The BMJ's article has a patently wrong headline and is clearly crafted to cast doubt on the efficacy and safety of the Pfizer vaccine where no such doubt exists. The Lead Stories article is gaudy and equally clickbaity, but they get the facts right.

It looks like this has been a trend with the BMJ, now that Peter Doshi has managed to become an associate editor. Just because the journal is historically important doesn't mean it should be looked at with an uncritical eye. Spreading misinformation, especially from a pulpit of legitimacy, needs to be challenged.

I'm sympathetic to arguments that FB has too much power in these things, but in this instance they got it right. The BMJ editorial staff need to be shamed into getting these cranks out of their midst.


BMJ sounds like people who've never actually been on Facebook.

They complain of nonsensical title:

>"Fact Check: The British Medical Journal Did NOT Reveal Disqualifying And Ignored Reports Of Flaws In Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trials"

The title is nonsensical because that's the nonsensical claim the fact-checkers are debunking! That's the title the BMJ article (or its screencap) is being shared with.

BMJ's article is being used as "proof" that vaccines are a hoax. That's why there's a hoax alert.

BMJ's article is "misleading info" in the context of how it's shared on Facebook, where the fact checkers are working.

I mean, there are a lot of thing that Facebook does wrong, but this is not one of them. Good job, Mark.


It is important to understand that our intelligence community folks are not only actively pushing their own disinformation, and stifling narratives and alternative channels that they don't want you to hear, but also sponsoring false-flag staged events as well. So "false news" doesn't simply just happen; sometimes it has a multi-million dollar budget behind it. See: Weapons of Mass Destruction; 2 planes bring down 3 buildings; Pure: Ten Points I Just Can’t Believe About the Official Skripal Narrative; moon of alabama bounty on US soldiers; etc. etc.


Sounds like Facebook’s punitive measures for users exercising free speech was created by the same people who invented China’s social credit system.


I wonder what is BMJ’s agenda? Why do they want that their articles explaining how one contractor botched trial shared on Facebook? Are they saying that it is not true that their article “could mislead people”?

And article is like Fox News: “ 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.”

Come on guys… this is definitely “click bite” article where headline really does not match the content l.


BMJ correspondents understand the industry and see some failures in one of the most important clinical trials for this pandemic. They consider this unacceptable and seeing that regulators haven't really done their job at overseeing this properly, have done some investigation and want to make other healthcare professional aware of this issue so that ultimately it can be properly resolved.

The title is very precise and corresponds with the contents very closely. You could say it is a little bit alarmistic though.

If it reads like Fox News to you, then you probably don't understand this industry. That's fine but don't call it wrong.


Maybe it's not about whether the article can or can't be shared, it's just that they don't want lies to be explicitly told about their article, because that negatively impacts their reputation? For example, the claim of the fact-checkers that the article contains "flaws".


>And article is like Fox News: “ 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.”

I mean, shouldn't it? The fact that this was reported to the FDA and they took no further action to investigate makes all of their other efforts suspect.


Or it means that FDA is not doing its job properly. It could be do to lack of manpower or whatever but the fact that the FDA did not inspect the sites in question doesn't mean that the complaint wasn't justified. It just means it wasn't investigated, so no clear conclusions can be made.


>Or it means that FDA is not doing its job properly.

So you're saying it "raise[s] questions about... regulatory oversight"?


It definitely does.

There have been many scandals with pharma and regulators. Opioid crisis is one example, even though all involved parties currently blame each other and it has not been established who shares the most guilt yet. In either case, we definitely needed alarming articles about risks from newly marketed opioids 10 years ago.

The other worry is the recent approval of aducanumab by the FDA.


Here is our official reply. When an article by a reputable medical journal suddenly goes viral in anti-vaccine circles on Facebook there usually is more to the story. There was.

https://leadstories.com/analysis/2021/12/lead-stories-respon...


"Fact checkers" are nothing but propaganda.


We landed on The Moon!!!


Who checks the checkers?


What's wrong with the Pfizer vaccine data?

I mean the FDA is asking for 55 years to process and release all such public data to the public now.. https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/wait-what-fda-wants... . Which to me is concerning as well the CDC just announcing not to get the J&J shot but the other two.

Early science .. we all jumped in like guniea pigs ... some forced to like myself where Ive already been burned twice (hernia mesh implant recalled causes pain forever and a med I took damaged an organ) by early science/profits over people crap.

Also any media to research where bias (pro or not pro vaccine ... left or right) is.. is hard to believe as truth. Bias clouds the truth always! Im sure any vote on my post is biased based ... pro vaccine or anti. Im in the middle and wanted to wait to see years of data to see/find out which one was the best .. which one was the worst but i wasnt given that opportunity... get vaxed or if not lose everything.


Sadly fack checking is often conflated with outright bias and narrative control. You can literally post links and direct quotes from the cdc’s website and get flagged and removed by twitter for “misinformation”.


Two things worth noting. First, this is dated from the November 2nd. Second, as has been pointed out by other commenters, this article is worth reading: https://leadstories.com/hoax-alert/2021/11/fact-check-britis...

Unfortunately, the research misconduct that the BMJ letter points to plays right into the hands of anti-vaxxers and anti-science types.

Science hard, science communication is even harder, but how is the hardest part caring enough to do the research right?

Edit: As has been pointed out, I got the date wrong! This is dated as of 12/17.


No, the original article is dated Nov 2.

This open letter is dated today (Dec 17) - see sidebar.


Ah, thanks for pointing that out.


You're looking at the date on the original whistleblower article in the BMJ. The open letter is dated today.


I suspect they would cheer for anti-vax censoring.


So this means Pfizer lied to FDA and all of us who got the vaccine. This has to be against the law somehow and criminal charges are on their way?


When you have partisans in high positions such as the head of DHS telling companies like Facebook what should be allowed and not allowed, there is a big problem.

Here is a video interview of the head of DHS:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp3r04dfpZA

Just what does the head of DHS consider "misinformation" you have to wonder. It was not long ago we didn't really care, because they would not have dared to infringe on free speach.

I wonder what other partisans in power are saying to social media companies?


In fact the BMJ is so credible that they call a vaccine engineered and manufactured by Biontech the 'Pfizer vaccine'


> “Missing context ... Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people.”

I can agree with that. After learning about this BMJ article some people with certain bias might take it as an evidence that Covid vaccine trials were seriously flawed and resulted in wrong conclusions and that the vaccine is unsafe or ineffective.

So plenty of context is sometimes necessary to avoid misleading people despite the fact that everything you say is true.


There is way too much cheer pressure[1] in favor of [Biden, Democrats, vaccines, Wuhan lab] from the moderators of Facebook and Twitter.

1. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Cheer%20Pres...


The 'elites' control the narrative through propaganda censors like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Anything that doesn't conform to their predetermined agenda gets discredited, the author smeared, then eventually banned from posting. These are legitimate 1st amendment issues that need to be defended or what little freedom we have left will be boiled away like baby frogs.


The Internet is not, and has never been, a "public forum." At the end of the day the only piece of hardware you own is (probably) the one on your desk. You may put whatever data you want into it, but it's no one's responsibility to share that data.

Beyond that the suggestion that all user's data should be shared equally is inherently flawed.


I don’t think these types of arguments that proclaim the internet is owned by private entities make any sense.

The point of the parent comment was to discuss advocacy for a alternative and your comment essentially is replying well this is how it is currently so nothing can be done.


Why isn't it a public forum? The Internet has largely replaced all traditional public fora.


>The Internet is not, and has never been, a "public forum."

Internet is public utility just like roads.

There's probably no other way around it instead of treating stuff like Facebook as a partly private business and partly public utility.


I would strongly argue that coordinated censorship of media should be illegal.

It's not today. But is it in society's interest that a small group of elites gets to decide what we can discuss on our primary discussion platforms?


Ummm...BMJ is close to the very definition of 'elites' with regard to medicine. This circumstance goes against the typical complaints of things being as simple as "elites controlling the narrative."


What kind of 1st Amendment issues are there with Facebook and Twitter of all places?


How about every single one of them. If they didn't want to be treated as public forums they shouldn't have sought and fought so hard to monopolize themselves and position themselves where they are.


That's not at all what the First Amendment says.


Please don't take HN threads further into generic ideological flamewar. It's much too predictable and tedious.

I realize this is begging for an "aha! the elites are proving the point!" response—but really no, we just don't want threads to clog up with low-information, high-indignation rhetoric. If you want to be all non-elitey within those params, have at it.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29596102.


Detaching a thread, that's new (to me). I guess it's better than all out censorship, but not much better than Reddit collapsing threads that get downvoted by bots.

I'm sorry if my meager comment became work for you, however you do realize you are modding a 'hacker' forum, where social engineering is the purest and earliest form of 'hacking'? Consider that most of the original 'hackers' are/were looking for social equality, now while social media has been infiltrated by big money 'elites' to squash the lamentations of the poor and impoverished. Lastly, John D Rockefeller only bought into newspapers after Ida Tarbell exposed the ills he was incurring on American society.

If one can't wail at the wall of propaganda on a hacker news forum, where can impoverished ideologists still have a voice? All the main social media sites have been bought by 'elites', or hacked by their cohorts into oblivion when they don't play ball.


I feel for your plight, but our first duty is to try to prevent this place from degenerating—or at least to stave that off as long as possible (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&so...), and it's quite clear that ideological wailing is one of the factors that most needs to be dampened if we're to achieve that. The best I can offer you is that the opposing wailings are just as dampened.


No. Pretty much that’s their answer to the backlash that they are platforms helping spread misinformation.


They seem to have forgotten the Inquisition.

Really, in their view they were just trying to help people not be infected by false claims.


Please don't post unsubstantive and/or flamebait comments to HN. We're trying for something different here.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29596102.


Can I ask if you think Facebook fact checking is as serious as the Spanish Inquisition?


It has the potential to be. Of course they aren’t going to torture individuals, but they could easily amplify large scale suffering stochastically.


Not in any meaningful way without first coming to terms on a shared ethical framework and a common understanding of 'serious', no.


You're not wrong, but this whole discussion is about ethics, and I don't see any shared ethical framework being established.


Another question would be: which Spanish Inquisition - the real one, or the one that lives in popular culture?


I am talking of the real one (which as you say is much milder than the popular one): they did burn books and prosecute people for their ideas, which is what I was thinking of.


It is the thought behind it: there is a single true opiniom.

Mind you: it may even be worse. Not in terms of physical harm.


What single true opinion is that?

As I see it, there's lots of opinions, some are clearly wrong, and some are varyingly plausible. Annotating the clearly wrong ones isn't anything close to claiming that there is only one opinion.


One thing that puzzles me: why people (still?) use Facebook? What's so good about it? There are dozens of platforms where people can post their thoughts, like and be liked.

I feel like something's evading me. Is it because I'm an old fart?


For most people, Facebook is the only place where they can stay in touch with their family and friends. My friends and family are not and never will be on mastodon or diaspora or anything like that.

Also, private special interest groups on Facebook are really excellent. There's nothing else like it. Sub Reddits are good for anonymous/psuedonymous general discussion, but for actually meeting and interacting with people who share your interests, and especially for sharing pictures/videos, I haven't seen anything better than Facebook. I'm a member of several music related Facebook groups - they get far more high quality participation (and fewer flame-wars) than comparable old-school web forums.


> For most people, Facebook is the only place where they can stay in touch with their family and friends.

I don't understand what's wrong with a group chat in <your favorite messenger>?

Not arguing. Just lost. Completely lost.


Facebook Marketplace is also really convenient.


In my experience, Facebook is the platform which is most tied to people you actually have interacted with in real life, and that's by a large margin. I know the reddit account of like 1 person I know IRL (I don't even know my wife's account). ...but my facebook friends consist of basically everyone I know that still has a facebook. A lot of that is just the network effect and momentum, but still.


even my best friends wont tell me their reddit IDs and I don't tell them my alts.


People believe they get value from the groups

This has largely replaced forums

Facebook tried to make a separate groups product for people that just want groups and not the rest of Facebook

Just like Messenger can be used without a full Facebook account

It is higher value for users than the newsfeed other social network experience, but it mostly sucks too


Groups are a disorganized mess of the same repetitive trash over and over. It's the same problem in every group. Just miles and miles of random posts with no way to organize them, and a shit search feature.

The only reason it killed forums is because they lowered the effort barrier. Forums were great because it required logins, and a minimal level of competency in order to use it. Only people who really wanted to be part of the forum would join. A simple login was enough barrier to keep out people who didn't want to put in any effort to their contribution. Facebook made it so that you can just go click a button and upload a picture and contribute a shitpost with no effort.


the abundance of real names, the relative absence of juvenile spazzes. my gen X buddies and I and our families can share family-friendly/public-safe info with a great signal-to-noise ratio. Also the Groups are emerging as the most useful part of it.

It's not good for edgy discussion, but consider this: social media platforms are more like: "which platform is good for what type of interaction" vs. "is this a good social media platform or not?" When I want spazzy bullshit I go straight to /b. I avoid twitter, tumbler, and tiktok like that plague because I don't want to be a human garbage filter looking for diamonds in the rough. I go on Instagram sometimes for pretty stuff from people I kind of know.


Facebook is the Internet for millions of people.


[flagged]


"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."

"Please don't post shallow dismissals, especially of other people's work. A good critical comment teaches us something."

"When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. 'That is idiotic; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3' can be shortened to '1 + 1 is 2, not 3."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29596102.

p.s. Not defending fact-checkers, just trying to defend HN against tedious deterioration.


These fact checkers are typically folks from the world of journalism. Those are not the people I consider to be experts on all subjects, certainly not deeply technical subjects like medicine.

I'm also not particularly confident that these social media companies have safeguards in place to ensure that their 3rd-party fact checkers are operating in good faith.

I don't think you need to jump to the conclusion that they're always operating in bad faith though - I think much of this is explained by a lack of competence in a field, overworked employees, low standards, and groupthink.


>experts

So called experts are not unbiased in terms of political interests. Also, all should believe that power is corrupting yes? But so are institutional power centers (social media monopoly platforms, prestige journalist outfits, elite media, academia, "expert" authorities, etc) targets for political factions to wield said power to their own ends. Just as centralized businesses are targets for hackers and such, so to are they targets for political factions because of all the power they sit on that can be wielded one way or another.

There is no "unbiased", there is no disinterested, above-it-all players that mediate some universal truth for the masses. Even if one attempts to do this they will quickly be subverted by political actors pushing a message.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29596948


Of course they're operating in bad faith. Those words don't just jump to the screen when they think. It's not like they were just chatting with friends in messaging apps.

They had to do some "research" and then type those opinions word by word, sentence by sentence, and revise it several times, and do the review and proofing before it get published.

Is there any chance, during the whole process, it didn't come to their mind that it's their own opinion, not "facts"?

There is not a single chance. NO.


> There’s no other explanation.

The other explanation is that they are being paid to control the narrative that the 'elites' order them to, by censoring anything outside their agenda.


So they wouldn't be bad people if they knowingly engaged in misleading the public for money?


> It’s because they are bad people.

Maybe a bit too simplistic of a description but essentially I agree. They know exactly what they are doing. Companies like FB, which hire them, also know exactly what they are doing. The reason to have these "fact checkers" is to add a layer of indirection and absolve FB of any bias. "It's not us, it's the independent fact checkers who are telling you what's right and wrong".

If they don't perform as expected, they get fired and replaced with another fact checker group and so on.


It seems to me that if you have a whistleblower account of some poor research practices for a vaccine trial, spreading it around Facebook to be commented on by random people who have no idea how to interpret it, probably isn't the best place for it.

I know that means publications like these which may have something important to add to the vaccine conversation, won't be able to have millions of "likes and shares"... but, who cares? Is that really such an important thing? Why is it so important for billions of random uninformed people throughout the internet to directly vomit out the first thought that comes into their head on topics like these?

I know I know, censorship, blah blah blah. I don't give a shit. To me, it's akin to somebody opting to turn off the comment section on a YouTube video that's bound to get a lot of heated debate. Just... publish your article, let actual news sites disseminate it, and do things the old fashioned way. That is, without the internet mob weighing in at every opportunity.

I know that the endgame of my argument is that Facebook would just be a site with cat pictures and status updates on what people are having for dinner. I don't care. That would be a world that is 100000 times better than the one we live in.


Please don't take HN threads further into flamewar. You can make your substantive points without breaking the site guidelines like this.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


My concern is that I don't think that is the endgame. I think the endgame is a world where Facebook still seems to have a variety of news information, but it's heavily censored under the hood, and your parents/grandparents think you're talking nonsense if you bring up one of the topics Facebook fact checks don't allow.


Is that not the situation we're in now? Facebook does act as if it's giving people a variety of news information, they do censor the things my relatives see, and my relatives do think I'm talking nonsense if I bring up one of the topics the algorithm doesn't allow them to see. We are there already.


Maybe my preferred endgame is just a world without global social media, then.


I'd MUCH prefer that to the alternative mentioned above.


Backwards. It'll be your kids thinking you're talking nonsense, when you try to tell them about incidents that have been purged.


My relatives today think I am a misguided, manipulated communist because I believe in climate change and universal healthcare. Such is the experience of many of my friends so while I also find your end game concerning, that's how the internet as our parents (etc) experience it already works.


if the shoe fits..


I would like to hear about facebook cancelling out a major news source or even medical journal for forever for anything short of lying through their teeth. Do you have any? I will be happy to research it, but I have not seen anything of the sort. Banning Trump was a godsend in my opinion.


> Just... publish your article, let actual news sites disseminate it, and do things the old fashioned way

Have you been to a newsroom lately? If it isn’t on twitter, it’s not getting published.


I would consider giving money to news that do things better, instead of succumbing to cynism. This way things can improve. I have never been to a newsroom, but I have run into outlets with better, if mot perfect, standards than these.


Agree. The notion that moderation of any kind can make individual Facebook comments and opinions _at scale_ a trustable source of information is false. I’m not sure anyone believes it, and the outsourcing of the whole operation suggests it’s acknowledged to be a cost of doing business but not a strategy.


Yes, let's do it the old fashioned way where a bunch of journalists at "actual news sites" who think they're smarter than me but aren't, and have no subject matter knowledge whatsoever, decide for me what information I should get to see.


You don't give a shit because you're happy to see Facebook silence opinions you don't want to hear.

What, you think a tech monopoly will always be on your side? Or that someone will care when news that YOU care about will be censored / defeated / fake fact checked?

You're just a propaganda cog with such an attitude, no better than dumb antivaxers who don't care about facts either.


Please don't post like this to HN, regardless of how provocative or wrong another comment is, or you feel it is.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I'm fine with facebook doing what they want on their platform including hiring "fact checkers" if it cuts down on the garbage like covid and global warming deniers. If they don't like my posts and "cancel" me well then I'll just quit using the platform. Social media is not really important in my life, I would rather individuals and companies be able to do what they want with their "lives" without the government regulating everything or picking winners.


I think you may have stopped reading my comment after the beginning. In my last paragraph I explained that the end game is that basically nothing controversial (of one side or another, whether I agree with it or not) is allowed past the censors, and we just get cat videos and updates about people’s dinner. And that would be a 100000x better user experience than what is on Facebook today.


Yes, if only people stopped saying things that are "controversial", the world would be 100000x better. No wait they can can say that, but not on any platform that matters. Maybe stop posting your own controversial ideas before saying that others have no right to.

Funny how you downgraded "world" to "Facebook user experience" in your second comment.

Freedom of expression, as a principle, not as the literal 1st amendment text, is a bit more important to continued existence of our society than your Facebook experience. Unfollow your antivaxer friends if you can't bear them.


Yeah yeah we get it you’re a fascist little shithead who would gladly take away everyone else’s rights to make yourself feel safe. Just like a bunch of other commenters here. Good to know.


Please don't post like this to HN, regardless of how provocative or wrong another comment is, or you feel it is.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Turns out fact checking is hard and costs money. What's surprising is that Meta, which has capable staff and lots of money, can't seem to be bothered to do it properly.


"Please don't post shallow dismissals, especially of other people's work. A good critical comment teaches us something."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

p.s. I'm not defending what you're criticizing—I'm saying that on HN, criticism needs to be more substantive than this.


Thanks, got the message.

I think what I wanted to say is that it seems to me that a) the resources Meta throws at this are not sufficient to check facts properly, and b) that proper fact checking is a really difficult business.

a) because if they had used staff with minimal domain knowledge they would probably have been aware what BMJ is, that it is a trusted scientific journal that has peer-review in place. I don't know whether the article in question was peer reviewed, but I assume so. Either way, this didn't seem to play a role. Whoever fact-checked the article labeled BMJ a newsblog, so they have near-zero domain knowledge.

b) BMJ and all scientific journals which are worth their money employ experts to do the fact checking in peer review. Funny enough, these experts mainly do that work for free. Turns out that the experts place high value in fact-checked and verified information. Clearly, peer review takes a long time and wouldn't be suitable for facebook's quick turnaround. Or perhaps it would... if Meta designed a peer review process that takes Facebook's specific requirements into account. But that's a whole new approach to things, perhaps better developed in a startup and then bought out by Meta ;)

Not that peer-review is perfect, or that all experts are always right. But Meta needs to acknowledge that fact checkers are sometimes wrong, too. When that happens, there must be a way to correct the error. The BMJ having to write an open letter to Zuckerberg clearly indicates that this error correction doesn't work.


Thanks! This is miles better.


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


The original BMJ article doesn't draw any conclusions that I can see. It certainly doesn't suggest the Pfizer vaccine is unsafe or ineffective, as the "fact check" heavily implies.


This one is a more in-depth rebuttal to the article and indeed BMJ itself; I found it compelling. https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/what-the-heck-happened-to-t... It argues that the article was disingenuous to the point of being propaganda.


It almost certainly does. They even block out a box of their conclusions in grey to draw the reader eyes.

Additionally, the fact they never reached out to the companies at all is telling enough of their agenda.


People on Facebook aren't actually reading the journal. They're looking at the title and saying "see, the vaccine was unsafe all along." The fact checkers said "Missing context ... Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people" which is absolutely true.


My bet would be they're not willing to pay for the actual expertise they need. I bet the fact-checkers FB employs don't have the qualifications those of us who fact-check academic publications have; the sheer amount of information FB has to wade through tells me that they need a lot of people, and I have an inkling that they would really resist paying for non-tech expertise that doesn't immediately lead to $$$$.

I also wouldn't be surprised if there were perverse incentives for the fact-checkers: Some claims take longer than others to evaluate, but I bet they're on some sort of metric based system. Or that 'I don't know' or 'it's unverifiable' aren't good enough answers even though that happens.

I also don't know if FB could GET that expertise at this point: I view big tech more kindly than most information specialists I know and I wouldn't work for FB even for six-figures.


How do you fact check someone who has more expertise than you?

How do you fact check a brand new fact?


Brand new facts generally go through a public disclosure process where some established institution (a news outlet, academic journal, whatever) is willing to vouch for it as true, or at least vouch for it as being worthy of consideration and discussion— and in any case, will strive to present it with the appropriate context and framing as far as level of certainty, who the players are and what their motivations are, etc etc.

I think it's reasonably fair for the policy for nobodies posting on social media to be that "new facts" (or "original research" in Wikipedia parlance), particularly those which may be harmful to public safety or marginalized groups should be either unpostable, or considerably reduced in how far they're able to spread organically (shadow-banning).

If you don't like it, go to some other social media network. For my part, I'd be content with a Facebook feed where none of the posts I'm seeing are "new" facts. OTOH, I'd also be content with a FB feed that was exclusively pics of my friends and their kids and very little news or politics at all.


In this case I assume the BMJ article was peer reviewed, so it was already fact-checked by knowledgeable individuals. BMJ is a reputable journal that can be relied to fact-check their articles. The fact that it was labeled a newsblog means that the fact-checkers really had no domain knowledge about the facts they were supposed to check.


Science has come up with peer review for that purpose. It is far from perfect but works more often than it does not.

Outside science I would recommend to delegate fact checking to knowledgeable persons. For brand new facts ask an expert.


Expertise isn't a cure all. An example is the famous Minux/Linux fight. Tanenbaum was a distinguished professor, arguing with some guy on the internet who built a kernel. "Is a monokernel a viable way to build a first rate operating system?" Fact Check: operating system researchers widely believe that monolithic kernels are a fundamentally flawed way to build a system...

The premise that there are some specially endowed people who, by virtue of their credentials, are the only ones able to mark things as true sounds like the core tenants of a religion, not a secular society!


Well, I wasn't saying that there should be specially endowed people, I was asking about the reverse: how can someone who is not informed fact-check someone who is?

Or to make it less personal, how can someone fact-check information they aren't knowledgeable about?


Tanenbaum was in fact right. Monolithic kernel design has caused no end of problems, which is why modern OS's (including Linux!) are moving a lot into userspace. See Windows moving font parsing out of the kernel, macOS DriverKit, Linux uio, etc.


You spelled Minix wrong and told the story wrong.

Not the best way to make an argument against fact-checking.


> While I could go into a long story here about the relative merits of the two designs, suffice it to say that among the people who actually design operating systems, the debate is essentially over. Microkernels have won.

https://groups.google.com/g/comp.os.minix/c/wlhw16QWltI

I will concede that I spelled 'minix' wrong.


> operating system researchers widely believe

Tanenbaum did SAY that, but that is different from it being true.

Fact-checking doesn't mean just accepting the declaration of the more credentialed party in a debate that their view is expert consensus.


How would you do fact checking "properly"?


Create a bureaucracy that will still largely be corrupt (from one side or there other) and get things massively wrong?

I'm actually more for community tools to do moderation correctly and for content to be moderated by "people I trust" within the community. So for example if someone who I've marked as trustworthy on science reporting marks a science story as fake news it's flagged for those of us who have marked the flagger as an authority.

People will say you are just encouraging echo chambers like this but I actually think it's inevitable and we all live in echo chambers. Having your views challenged is extremely hard work that we don't always have time or the inclination to work through day to day. Everyone is watching a different movie.


I would start with having knowledgeable people doing the fact checking. Next, since it will not always be possible to get every fact check right the first time, allow for fact checking results to be revised. Exactly what BMJ asks for.


How do you know this wasn't their intention? You're assuming good faith.


I couldn't find the tongue-in-cheek emoji!


Facebook would not be profitable if they did fact checking properly


Repeal section 230.


Fact checking is basically a short name for "we pretend to be objective but we have a narrative to enforce"


There should be a discussion page, like on Wikipedia, for "fact checkers" to publicly interact with those who post "misleading information." It's highly upsetting that there was no process for this entity to challenge the ruling of the "fact checkers." Especially since it is an established medical journal.

Why can't we have open discussions about "the facts?" Are we living in a democratic country or an authoritarian country? For those that say "Facebook is a private company, it can do whatever it wants on its platform," I think it's important to distinguish between the legal right for a company to do something and the moral character of their actions. In other words, Facebook may well be within their rights to do what they are doing, but that doesn't mean it is moral. Given that we are a "democratic" country, our moral judgements should weigh heavily against these types of authoritarian actions, even if they are legal.