Facebook's Fact-Checking Fail: Weekly Standard Demotes Think Progress

Facebook recently instituted a fact-checking system aimed at preventing the spread of misinformation on the service.

But the company's treatment of a recent Think Progress piece suggests the initiative is half-baked, at best. What's more, it threatens to filter out the kind of provocative commentary that contributes to people's understanding of current events.

On Sunday, Think Progress published an article about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's views on Roe v. Wade. The headline read as follows: "Brett Kavanaugh said he would kill Roe v. Wade last week and almost no one noticed."

Kavanaugh didn't literally voice the words, "I will kill Roe v. Wade" to the Senate. But the Think Progress article argues that his answers during confirmation hearings, combined with his prior statements about Constitutional rights, demonstrate that he will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Specifically, Kavanaugh praised the 1997 decision in Washington v. Glucksberg to the Senate. That decision held that people don't have a Constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide. In the ruling, the Supreme Court took a narrow view of "unenumerated rights" -- meaning rights like the right to abortion, enshrined by Roe v. Wade, that aren't explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. Kavanaugh also reportedly said last year that "even a first-year law student" would say the 1997 Glucksberg ruling goes against Roe v. Wade.

The right-wing Weekly Standard, one of Facebook's new fact-checkers, flagged the article as false because Kavanaugh didn't literally state he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The impact of that designation could be devastating -- especially for sites that rely on Facebook for traffic. The company says articles designated as "false" are demoted and lose 80% of their future views.

Think Progress now argues The Weekly Standard has no business serving as a fact-checker for Facebook. "If Facebook continues its partnership with The Weekly Standard, the consequences could be quite severe for left-leaning outlets generally -- or potentially for any other outlet which publishes a news article that The Weekly Standard disagrees with," Think Progress wrote Tuesday.

Think Progress has a legitimate grievance here, especially given that its article clearly analyzed Kavanaugh's prior statements. But the problem for Facebook and its users goes beyond this one article. Facebook, in its haste to eliminate fake news from its platform, outsourced the job without fully thinking through the differences between misinformation and commentary, facts and interpretation.

Earlier today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg boasted that the new fact-checking system will help root out "viral hoaxes." The problem is, it might also suppress legitimate journalism.

4 comments about "Facebook's Fact-Checking Fail: Weekly Standard Demotes Think Progress".
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  1. Jeff Martin from IMF, September 14, 2018 at 12:08 p.m.

    I disagree, they do not have a grievance here. Something is either factual or it is not. Making sensational claims in a headline which is picked up and used all over the Internet should be held to a factual standard. He either said those words or he did not. If he did not say them, then it is not factual. Forcing more factual writing, even in headlines, is a step in the right direction. I don't care whether I'm reading a pro or anti-Kavanaugh headline just report the facts and let me decide based on the facts.

    IMO, a simple tweak would let me know that they were not being literal, but rather interpreting on their now. If they would have added "essentially" or something similar that would be an indicator to me: Brett Kavanaugh said, essentially, that he would kill Roe v. Wade last week and almost no one noticed.

    However, that's not sensational and doesn't fit their rhetoric. 

  2. Michael Strassman from Similarweb replied, September 20, 2018 at 12:33 p.m.

    Your argument is beside the point. The purpose of Facebook's fact checking system is to root out baseless and patently false posts that are little more than propaganda, not suppress legitimate commentary with a point of view, but based in fact. On that score, the system fails miserably. You can take issue with the headline being sensationalistic, but the piece is a good-faith analysis of verifiable facts. Such editorials from the right are no less legit and shouldn't be scooped up in this rigid, ham-handed approach to cleaning up false content.

  3. Jeff Martin from IMF replied, September 20, 2018 at 12:42 p.m.


    Not seeing how my post is beside the point. The headline is an integral part of the article in question. It is either true or false, fact or not. Reading through the article it is clear that he did not say those words. Putting words in his mouth is misinformation. Period.

  4. F.G. Hall from Movement Media replied, September 26, 2018 at 2:10 p.m.

    @Michael, Jeff is correct. Simply put, ThinkProgress could easily tweak their headline to make it acceptable. Something like "Kavanaugh Testimony Tatamount to a Guarantee Woe v. Wade Will Be Overturned" (or some such qualification implying "almost".)

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