On Sunday, ThinkProgress published an article titled, “Brett Kavanaugh said he would kill Roe v. Wade last week and almost no one noticed.”
The Weekly Standard conducted a fact check on the article which argued that the headline is inaccurate, though it offered to change the rating if the headline is fixed. “While ThinkProgress engages in an argument to suggest how Kavanaugh might vote in a Roe v. Wade redo, the article does not provide evidence that ‘Kavanaugh said he would kill Roe v. Wade’... TWS Fact Check could not find an instance where Kavanaugh ‘stated he’d overturn #Roe.’” (The Weekly Standard, Twitter)
ThinkProgress defended the headline, stating, “According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the verb ‘say’ or ‘said’ can mean to ‘indicate,’ ‘show,’ or ‘communicate’an idea. Our argument is that [Kavanaugh] indicated, showed, or communicated his intention to overrule Roe.” (ThinkProgress)
The Weekly Standard is one of Facebook’s five fact-checkers alongside the Associated Press, Politifact, Snopes, and Factcheck.org. Facebook requires its fact-checkers to be accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network. Labeling an article ‘false’ on Facebook on average reduces future views by over 80 percent. (Poynter, Facebook)
The left is divided.
The right believes the fact-check was justified.
“As was entirely predictable, The Weekly Standard is using its new authority as a Facebook fact-checker to label liberal arguments ‘false’... It might be more accurate to say that the article is debatable: One could believe in good faith that it makes its case or that it doesn’t."
“The Weekly Standard may disagree with its headline, but it is simply wrong to call it ‘a verifiable lie’ when it rests on a nuanced and subjective legal argument... Millhiser’s headline is exaggerated, but captures the essence of Kavanaugh’s words—or at least, the author’s own informed interpretation of them. It’s a far cry from fake news."
“The Weekly Standard has a history of placing right-wing ideology before accurate reporting... It ran an article in 2017 labeling climate science ‘Dadaist Science’... No left-leaning outlet has this special ability to ‘fact check’ other writers’ work... [This is] a perfect example of how Facebook is catering to conservatives."
“If an article is basically factually correct, but has a headline that is basically factually wrong, fact-checkers ought to take action — or what else are they for? Some people think the ‘false label’ ought to be reserved only for moonbat headlines about the Pope being a lizard person, but it’s hard for me to see how that meaningfully improves our news ecosystem.”
Last week, PolitiFact reported that “[Kavanaugh] ‘raised a few eyebrows’ when he ‘called birth control pills abortion-inducing drugs.’ Days later, PolitiFact conceded that it had ‘repeated uncritically a Democratic talking point’ and that Kavanaugh had actually been quoting a party in the case. I don’t see any of my colleagues on the left calling for PolitiFact to be removed from Facebook’s panel...
"The headline on the ThinkProgress article was false. Kavanaugh didn’t say he would kill Roe. And the Standard was right to point this out.”
“The real lesson here... is that Facebook has no idea how to handle the fact that a massive percentage of political discourse takes place on its platform, and the solutions it’s testing are creating new and dangerous problems. The debate over Kavanaugh illustrates that our public discourse is in the hands of people who have no idea how to manage it responsibly.”
The right believes the fact-check was justified.
This piece was “an example of precisely the false, clickbaity headlines that the social media giant is trying to do away with... when you have to go to the dictionary to back up your claim someone ‘said’ something, you've lost the argument." Worth noting: “the Weekly Standard... has also performed several fact-checks of false claims from Donald Trump and other conservatives."
“The Weekly Standard has a ‘conservative ideological bent.’ However, the other sites, particularly Politifact, also have an ideological bent... just one that ThinkProgress would agree with. These sites treat statements from Democrats with kid gloves."
Dated but relevant: Many argue that Politifact is harder on statements from conservatives. In one example, it rated identical statements as “mostly true” when said by a Democrat (Jim Webb), but only “half true” when said by a Republican (Rand Paul). The rating was later changed to be consistent, but all of the analysis remained the same.
Furthermore, “during the 2012 election season, PolitiFact assigned Mitt Romney 19 ‘Pants on Fire’ ratings. For comparison, for every single Democrat combined from 2007-2016 the ‘Pants on Fire’ rating was only assigned 25 times. This seems to indicate Romney wasn’t just a liar, but an insane, raving liar, spewing malicious deceit at every possible opportunity.”
Some note, “now that left-leaning sources are being fact-checked, leftists are suddenly becoming worried about the threat of online censorship... [it is dangerous] when a select group are given the role of arbiters of truth across Facebook and other digital public squares."
“ThinkProgress is a project of the left-wing Center for American Progress, which was founded by John Podesta, who served as President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff and as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman. I can think of no better tribute to the legacy of CAP’s political patron saints than for ThinkProgress to go after a fair fact-check with an attack that includes an absurd parsing of the true definition of a word and allegations of a vast right-wing conspiracy."
According to Alexios Mantzarlis, Director of Poynter's International Fact-Checking Network, “The real problem is not ‘Is Facebook censoring progressives’ but ‘Should Facebook ask fact-checking partners to flag stories based on headlines?’ and ‘How Literally?’ We know a lot of fakes travel off of a headline alone. Not acting on those opens a pretty big loophole.”
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