How independent are the facebook fact checkers??
How independent are the facebook fact checkers?

After Facebook started a questionable political fact-checking program in Germany two years ago, it is now launching a parallel project in the UK, again supported by various super-rich people

The idea that the growing distrust in established institutions is based to a considerable extent on false information that deliberately misleads people and should therefore be corrected centrally has gained influence in recent years – unsurprisingly, especially in the established institutions themselves.

There, people are increasingly relying on fact checkers, which are supposed to take wide-ranging action against disinformation. Facebook is now working with fact-checking organizations in more than 20 countries to check whether questionable, frequently shared news and articles are factual. False claims are subsequently downgraded in their visibility to Facebook users. That as "false" declared is henceforth harder to find, fewer people see it.

Since such work is methodologically closely related to political censorship, the transparency of the criteria used is just as crucial as the question of who actually conducts the fact checks – and who finances this work. In Germany, Facebook has been cooperating since 2017 with the research portal Correctiv, whose head David Schraven had explained at the time when asked that no "unpopular opinions", but blob "Facts or statements of fact". So it’s all quite harmless?

This line of argument ames that there is a clear dividing line between the two "Factual claims" and "Opinions". But that is not the case. Rather, there exists a wide gray area of views that cannot be clearly assigned to either category. For example, sentences like "Putin threatens the security of Europe" or "Merkel is a puppet of the USA" on the one hand assertions of fact, but can by no means be "objectively" determine their truthfulness. Whether such statements appear to be true or false depends largely on the political point of view of the observer. In other words, these are controversial assessments about which there is no consensus in society.

The same is true for even more concrete statements, such as "Russia manipulated the US elections" or "the attacks of 9/11 were an inside job". A fact-checking organization that wants to decide whether such questions are true or false, and "False" then reduced in visibility, clearly crosses the threshold into political censorship. A social debate on controversial, explosive ies cannot be conducted from above "from above" by a "expert decision" at least as long as democratic standards are applied.

Truth-checkers who recognize this could indeed exclude such controversial ies from the fact-checks in the first place – but this only shifts the problem to another level. For then there would be a need for practical criteria for separating what is socially undisputed from what is legitimately disputed. But that is exactly what is not possible in a society that sees itself as democratic and enlightened, because it runs counter to the idea of a free and decentralized formation of opinion.

For this reason, Facebook’s heavy-handed approach of not only fact-checking, but acting as a "false" Filtering out what has been declared only makes sense in the context of political censorship. In 2018, after a year of working for Facebook, Correctiv head Schraven himself said, when asked, that content that Correctiv had once flagged as fake was subsequently published in the Facebook news feed "actually undetectable" be.

Who pays the fact checkers?

Such fundamental methodological inconsistencies aside, the partners with whom Facebook collaborates in determining the "Truth" now collaborating, is also questionable for other reasons, especially since their independence and non-partisanship is not a given in some cases. Correctiv, for example, has been funded for several years by the "Open Society Foundations" (OSF), co-financed by the politically active billionaire George Soros. The OSF also gives money to the British Correctiv counterpart "Full Fact", which started its fact-checking for Facebook in the UK this year and where it is explained at the start:

We focus on disinformation that could harm people’s health or safety or undermine democratic processes – everything from dangerous cancer ‘cures’ to false reports after terrorist attacks or fake content in the run-up to elections.

Full Fact

This surcharge appears problematic, as it is to a considerable extent a matter of interpretation by the interests involved as to what can and should be included under this heading. Are alternative healing methods per se, not accepted by conventional medicine – and the pharmaceutical sector "ourios" and "dangerous"? Are critical questions and explanations of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks that deviate from the mainstream sweeping "harmful fake content"? Who wants to determine such limits of the permissible?

The supervisory board of "Full Fact" is headed by the millionaire Michael Samuel, who also financially supports the company. Samuel comes from an influential banking family and is the head of the PR agency AGL with close ties to the upper echelons of the British Conservative Party. The founder of AGL, who died in 2017, worked as an image consultant for British Prime Minister David Cameron, among others.

The three main financiers of the British Facebook fact checkers from "Full Fact" In 2018, Google (with the equivalent of approx. 250.000 euros), the foundation of billionaire and Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar (approx. 125.000 euros), and the "Open Society"-Foundation of the already mentioned, politically not neutral billionaire George Soros (ca. 80.000 euros).

The same trio was also among the top financiers in Correctiv’s German Facebook fact-checkers in 2018 (Google: 100.000 euros, Omidyar: 640.000 euros, OSF: 85.000 Euro). The funds from Google thereby remained within the scope of the so-called "Digital News Innovation Fund" (DNI), a pot of money from the group for European media, from which Google has donated 115 million euros over the past three years, in order to, in its own words "to help journalism succeed in the digital age, and the".

Among the recipients of the financial blessing are, in addition to some start-up entrepreneurs, for the most part established media companies – and this in 29 European countries. In Germany, Google distributed a total of several million euros in 2018 alone to houses such as the Tagesspiegel, dpa, Dumont, FAZ, Gruner und Jahr, Handelsblatt, Heise, Spiegel Online, taz, Wirtschaftswoche and Zeit Online.

For fact-checking initiatives in the "Fight against disinformation" Google donated 5 million euros last year, all over Europe. Portals like Correctiv or "Full Fact" are just a few of many. The fight against "False" is now being carried out on a broad front.

Social media groups in the information war

The controversial research portal Bellingcat, which usually toes NATO’s line with its analyses on Syria, Ukraine or Russia and which the leading media like to cite, also received money from the rough Google claim pot in 2018.

That the supposedly neutral fight against "disinformation" is highly politically charged is also evident from the fact that since 2018 Facebook has not only been working with the NATO-affiliated lobbying organization Atlantic Council but, according to leaked documents, has also partnered with the equivalent of over 100.000 euros also contributed to the financing of the British "Integrity Initiative" involved, lined up with payments from NATO, as well as the British and U.S. Auben ministries.

The "Integrity Initiative", whose goal, according to internal documents, is to, "Russian disinformation" and "damaging influence" to counter, as well as a "network of experts, opinion leaders and politicians", which ultimately "consolidate British influence in North America and Europe after the Brexit" is close to British military and intelligence circles. Its chief, Chris Donelly, headed the British Army’s Center for Soviet Studies during the Cold War and was a special adviser to the NATO secretary general until 2003.

Google and geopolitics

Corporations like Facebook and Google have long played a role in the often covert shenanigans of geopolitics. This is shown not least by some overlaps in personnel between Google and the US government. In 2016, for example, then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt was appointed by the U.S. secretary of defense to chair a Pentagon advisory panel, a position he still holds today.

His longtime close confidant Jared Cohen, head of Google’s think tank "Jigsaw", worked on the U.S. Department of State planning staff from 2006 to 2010, first under Condoleezza Rice, then under Hillary Clinton. In her memoirs, Rice personally praised him for, "Social media integrated into our diplomatic toolbox" to have been involved in the democracy movements in the Middle East "wonderfully paid off" have.

Julian Assange reported back in 2014 in an extensive article about a personal meeting with Schmidt and Cohen, as well as their more or less covertly active role in U.S. geopolitics.

The fight for the facts and the truth is always also a fight for power and interpretive authority. Neutrality is often claimed, but as described, it often exists only on the surface. Facebook and Google have long been involved in political networks and international campaigns that are less concerned with enlightenment than with dominance in the new Cold War.