On May 28th 2020, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared that his company “shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth.” This announcement was refreshing to those who like to share conservative content on social media, as Twitter and Jack Dorsey had previously taken a different stance by deciding to hide President Trump’s tweets from his followers. However, Facebook’s decision not to directly preside over the truth does not mean that the company will enable its users to determine the validity of the platform’s content.
Facebook uses “fact-checkers” to determine whether or not to censor a post or remove an advertisement from its website. The company’s policy states that “Facebook’s independent third-party fact-checkers are all certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).” So yes, Zuckerberg is technically correct in saying that Facebook itself is not the arbiter of truth on its platform, but the reality is that they simply outsource the job to someone else.
The language on Facebook’s website claims that the company is only allowing objective, non-partisan outlets to determine what material is censored from the platform, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. One of the independent “fact-checkers” used by Facebook is Politifact. Politifact is the same outlet that published an article that called a 2012 Mitt Romney campaign advertisement the “Lie of the Year.” In the advertisement in question, the narrator states that, under Obama, Chrysler was “going to build Jeeps in China.” Politifact called this claim the “Lie of the Year” because it “strings together facts in a way that presents an wholly inaccurate picture.” Essentially, the quotation does not include all of what Politifact determines to be necessary context. However, later in the very same article by Politifact, the “fact-checker” admitted that Chrysler would in fact be expanding their production to China. Politifact, which was biased enough to give the 2012 Republican presidential nominee the “Lie of the Year” award, is now the arbiter of truth when it comes to censoring Facebook posts and advertisements.
It comes as no surprise that Politifact is now “fact-checking” and removing Facebook advertisements that promote President Trump’s re-election campaign. A super PAC in favor of Trump aired a Facebook ad in August, containing clips of Joe Biden talking about increased taxes—along with numerous citations and studies that showed Biden’s tax plan would increase taxes for most Americans. The video can be found here. Politifact rated this ad “mostly false,” and it was subsequently removed from Facebook’s platform. In case you were wondering why this ad is “mostly false,” here is what Politifact’s description says:
“[T]he America First Action ad presents that remark out of context. And while some tax experts estimate that Biden’s plan would mean higher taxes on average for all income groups, those increases would be relatively small for all but the biggest earners.”
Politifact gave this 30-second ad a rating of “mostly false” because it did not provide enough context for the situation. Politifact made a subjective distinction when claiming that tax increases would be “relatively small” for most people. And since the ad was labeled “mostly false,” it was removed from Facebook and could not reach an audience for a fair evaluation of the message’s validity—meaning that Facebook, by hiring Politifact to monitor its posts, became the “arbiter of truth” it swore to abstain from becoming.