by Mark Johnson
Thursday, 27
January 2022
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10:50

BMJ fights back against Facebook fact-checkers

The medical journal was censored for 'misinformation' by the tech giant
by Mark Johnson
Credit: Getty

When the BMJ published an extraordinary article documenting the censorship of one of its articles by Facebook, it lifted the curtain on a clandestine practice performed thousands of times a day. According to the medical journal, a peer-reviewed piece documenting an investigation into clinical trial research practices occurring at Ventavia, a contracted company which assisted with the main Pfizer covid-19 vaccine trial, was labelled as “partly false” and suppressed on the network.

Despite being fully evidenced and error-free, Lead Stories, a company that conducts around half of all fact-checking on Facebook, said the article was “missing context” and stated that a whistle-blower at the heart of the investigation failed to “express unreserved support for covid vaccines”. The fact-checking company later commented that it was concerned about who was sharing the article online. In other words, the documentation of research and investigation in some areas is not permitted if it risks causing the infantilised public to stray from their designated path.

What competency Silicon Valley executives or their fact-checking subsidiaries have to make judgements on the accuracy of information published by the UK’s premier medical journal is hard to see, but it speaks to a wider paranoia about the spread of wrongthink online. The concept of correcting falsehoods with counter-speech is not a problem in and of itself. The problem is that this practice is often not what it says on the tin. This became evident in 2021, when award-winning investigative journalist Ian Birrell’s UnHerd article on the origins of Covid and the developing questions around a potential lab leak was “fact-checked” and flagged on Facebook as “false information”. Facebook later reversed its policy position on preventing discussion of the lab leak theory only after the White House accepted it as a possible line of inquiry.

Under the weight of political pressure to shut down online discourse, “fact-checking” is becoming a major Silicon Valley funded institution unto itself. Increasingly, fact-checking constitutes tech companies and their subsidiaries casting editorial judgements on information presented into the public domain; judgements which represent a sanctioned version of the truth. Often, it is also coupled with attempts to suppress the spread of the information in question as well as openly discredit it.

This is straightforward censorship and speaks to a broader feature of society in liberal democracies in 2022, where a moral panic about the accuracy of expression has created a censorship crisis. The foundation of this concern is not ill-founded, but the growing fear around false information repackaged as “disinformation” focuses not on the powerful, but often on the spread of ideas and information amongst ordinary people. If even the BMJ can be censored for medical “misinformation” then what hope is there for the rest of us?

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Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
4 months ago

In a recent lawsuit against Facebook fact checkers, on ground of libel, Facebook used the defence that fact checking was opinion.
I’d like the BMJ to take legal action, but it’s costly and even if they win, it could still be a financially painful exercise.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

They need to admit fact checking is Editorializing, and so admit they are publishers, as they so obviously are.

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
4 months ago

They are already choosing who governs us, so do not expect governments to fix this issue.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  Fran Martinez

Facebook already has committed treason and insurrection by removing the President’s access to the public forum, and thereby changing the outcome of USA selecting its President.

Many of the ‘Great Selfie Riot’, who trespassed into Congress, stayed within the ropes wile taking selfies of themselves, and then left – have been a year in solitary confinement in Prison, others in the general Prison population where they are beaten and tormented by actual criminals.

When will Zuckerberg and Dorsey get the same? They have profited off the covid; they have done all they could to make it longer and more harsh and destructive – and doubled their obscene wealth in the process. They have made the rules their lackeys in Government, Social Media, MSM, and industry have enforced – thereby bankrupting USA and much of the West. They are to the Western Democracies what Jessy James was to the Rail Roads.

James Joyce
James Joyce
4 months ago

This is tricky. Clearly Big Tech, except Apple, and Apple is very woke too, has too much power and has essentially become Big Brother, determining Truth.
This is a scary situation to be in, with unelected boffins determining who holds the microphone. If Twitter can cancel the President of the United States–while allowing Iranian and other dictators free run–something is wildly wrong.
Little by little I see freedom slipping away, and there seems to be nothing to do to stop it. The lab leak example is one of the best and most egregious, but Trump was shouted down and cancelled when he spoke the truth about the China virus, though I am not defending some of his more bizarre recommendations on Corona.
So-called “hate speech,” which is speech that could offend anyone, anytime, for any reason (or no reason) is another great example of truly evil censorship, the freedom to disagree, the freedom to offend. If you don’t like what I have to say–well, be offended. Brilliant!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Read today’s Daily Mail – that MAN on the American University Woman’s swimming team is allowed to be nude (he has his genitalia intact, and likes women sexually) in the Woman’s changing room as they change and shower – and they must tolerate this or they could lose their athletic scholarships to University, and their place on a top swimming team

Women forced into nudity with a man – it is getting past weird, and is now a pathological degeneracy. Then all the stories of Soros funded DAs and Prosecutors freeing all criminals and allowing all manner of crime till society is becoming destroyed…..

And then Social media is censoring any protests against the degeneracy and the intentional destruction of Western Culture and society, and pushing to the fore and thing promoting such thinking and action.

Sarah Johnson
Sarah Johnson
4 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

You are way off-topic.

L Walker
L Walker
4 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Johnson

Well, yeah, but it’s the truth.

Art C
Art C
4 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Not tricky at all really. It’s time to break up these companies period! To prevent them buying individual politicians to water down legislation the decision to do so can be ratified (or not) by the public via a referendum. Simply determine to put a limit on the size and scope of activity: it’s outrageous, for example, that Facebook is allowed to own WhatsApp & Instagram!

Last edited 4 months ago by Art C
Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
4 months ago

The sooner all fact-checking is relegated to the dumpster (not tossed aside lightly, but thrown with great force, in Ms. Parkers unforgettable phrase), the better off we’ll all be.
I favour removing the legal protections from any organization which edits content in any way. They’re now publishers, and should be treated as such.
Noel


Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
4 months ago
Reply to  Noel Chiappa

“I favour removing the legal protections from any organization which edits content in any way.”

I do not want violence, cruelty, invasion of privacy, depravity, horrors, and deviancy to get a platform.

But to censor actual free speech – that is un-Western.

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago

Whenever i think of fact checkers I always get reminded of this gem.

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/blm-terrorist-rosenberg/

Philip L
Philip L
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

That article is fabulous, thank you for sharing.
Funnier still is that, on departing the site, I was asked to Join The Fight Against Misinformation by giving them $5 per month.
Further investigation reveals this page:

The news and fact-checking industry is currently experiencing a downturn that has considerably impacted our funding. Coupled with our opponents’ continued efforts to re-litigate the same issues and relentlessly file appeals, we find ourselves facing tumultuous seas and in need of rescue.

Altogether this has really cheered me up.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Wow! That’s the best laugh I’ve had in weeks.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Impressive charge sheet. Makes our lads McGuinness and Adams look like a couple of choirboys.

Art C
Art C
4 months ago

“Fact checkers” are just a fig leaf. It’s censorship pure & simple. Anything which counters a (current) government “line” can now be flagged as misinformation. It’s quite clear that Big Tech companies like Facebook & Google are working hand in glove with governments. The German government is apparently now considering banning the Telegram messenger app (they want it removed entirely from app stores) because “unlike Facebook & WhatsApp, Telegram does not cooperate”: i.e. they permit users to exchange information which does not always dovetail with government policy.

For Big Tech companies which play ball the advantages are obvious: they can retain their monopoly market position by “legally” killing off competitors at the flick of a switch. The banning of Parler at the beginning of 2021 is a prime example: Parler’s user base was growing at a rate of 1 million users per day in the days leading up to the plug being pulled on them by being removed from the Android and Apple app stores. Telegram, with close to 500 million users, is currently WhatsApp’s most direct competitor. So rest assured Facebook (WhatsApp’s owner) will be egging the German government on at every step. After that, the censorship can be expanded to other countries.

It also makes good business sense for Google (Android) & Apple(IOS) to remove popular apps which governments consider “non-compliant” from their app stores. These 2 companies control the mobile market so completely that they will always get any mobile traffic going. But more importantly, by cooperating with the censorship demands of the authorities, they stay on the “right” side of government and a blind eye is often turned to their other nefarious activities in dominating and profiting from the digital world we now are all forced to live in. Welcome to the new normal.

Last edited 4 months ago by Art C
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago

I was trying to recall which medical news sources were involved with the infamous vaccine misinformation cases with Wakefield (autism) and then Daszak (Covid), and I see it was the Lancet in both cases. So maybe the BMJ are good guys, I don’t know.
But who should be ensuring we are protected from misleading expertise? Not social media companies obviously, but the Lancet cases mean medical journal governance through peer review may have the necessary expertise but isn’t sufficiently free of conflicts of interest either. Should there be a regulator for ‘experts’ other than peer review – look where that has got us with climate change science.

Graham Willis
Graham Willis
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Private Eve, I recall, held out for Wakeham for a long time.

On Daszak, there is this from the guardian https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/09/conspiracies-covid-19-lab-false-pandemic.

Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet is a prominant political activist, active on both legacy and social media.

Sarah Johnson
Sarah Johnson
4 months ago

The BMJ and/or the author of the article should sue Facebook for libel. FB can’t legally be sued for what other people post on it, but the label of ‘misinformation’ is speech by Facebook itself. Also, the irony of a libel suit to defend free speech is delicious. Does anyone know people at the BMJ who they can suggest this to?

H D
H D
4 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Johnson

My reaction, as a retired American lawyer, was similar. I’m not sure whether such an action would be successful in this case, but I can imagine some situations where it could be.

Tom Shaw
Tom Shaw
4 months ago

Hey, I’m as hacked-off as anybody here about censorship. I am also acutely aware that states and groups strongly opposed to social and economic freedoms, work tirelessly to introduce pernicious nonsense into our public discourse. They are not ineffective. And Social Media is fertile ground for this sort of thing. It’s not the idea of ‘fact checking’ which is wrong, it is the blanket power to overrule. It would be better to bring educated opinion into the debate, rather than give ignorant twits power to just blank-out what they don’t fancy.

John Tyler
John Tyler
4 months ago

I don’t really do social media and so ask the following question from a stance of genuine ignorance.
Do FB, Twit, etc. censor out claims of efficacy for homeopathy, mindfulness, meditation, and all the other fashionable West Coast panaceas?

David Harris
David Harris
4 months ago

Re. fact checking and fact checkers… Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?