Is Anyone Fact-Checking Twitter’s Fact-Checkers?
Overshadowed by recent events, Twitter’s fact-check of President Trump’s tweet about mail-in ballots did not get the attention it deserved. The president’s posts were flagged as “potentially misleading,” which could be said about countless tweets on subjects ranging from politics to the COVID-19 crisis. For example, tweets about the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s contention that the novel coronavirus can be transferred by surface touching were highly misleading, since the CDC itself now says otherwise.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg of insidiousness one can find on Twitter.
“How China Built a Twitter Propaganda Machine Then Let it Loose on Coronavirus,” headlines a ProPublica piece that tracked more than 10,000 suspected fake Twitter accounts “involved in a coordinated influence campaign with ties to the Chinese government.” These include “the hacked accounts of users from around the world that now post propaganda and disinformation about the coronavirus outbreak, the Hong Kong protests and other topics of state interest.” No word of warnings that tweets were “potentially misleading” or the issue of a one-party Communist dictatorship controlling the information.
Over at that other social media giant, Mark Zuckerberg told reporters Facebook has a different policy on fact-checking than Twitter.
“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” the Facebook CEO told reporters. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.” This line runs contrary to what Zuckerberg told Congress in 2018, in the wake of a massive data breach.
At the time, Facebook was cooperating with the investigation by former FBI boss Robert Mueller, Zuckerberg said, adding that “I want to be careful here because our work with the special counsel is confidential.” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) asked Zuckerberg if the government had ever demanded that Facebook remove a page from the site. “Yes, I believe so,” the CEO said, with no word on the content of the page, the name of the government official who demanded its removal, or the date it was taken down.
After the Trump fact-check, Twitter boss Jack Dorsey said, “We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make.” That will doubtless mean more work for Twitter’s “Head of Site Integrity,” Yoel Roth. The presidential fact-checker is known for nuanced posts about “ACTUAL NAZIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE,” and such, but there’s more to Roth that partisan bluster.
“Hi, I’m Yoel. I work at Twitter,” he explains on his website. “I have a PhD in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania.” The grad-school article Roth is most proud of, about content management and its social impact, is available on Communication, Culture & Critique, but it is “paywalled, unfortunately.” Readers who want to fact check the piece will have to pony up. What most needs a fact-check is the notion that Twitter and Facebook are neutral platforms.