A new report highlights the potential conflict between Facebook’s fact-check program — which carries the authority to determine what content is censored on the platform — and partisan entities and individuals involved in that program.
Sky News Australia reported this week that an individual at the “top levels” of the certification process for fact-checkers used by Facebook has openly expressed “unashamedly politically biased” views, particularly against Donald Trump and in favor of Hillary Clinton. Her publicizing of partisan views, the outlet suggests, clashes with her organization’s portrayal by Facebook as a “non-partisan” entity.
In response to the report, the auditor told The Daily Wire that her “personal political views” and her role in “identifying objective facts” are perfectly “compatible.”
International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) certifier and American University School of Communication professor Margot Susca has a documented history of making anti-Trump and pro-Clinton statements and posts on social media, the Sky News Australia investigation found.
“Susca is unashamedly politically biased but she was responsible for issuing 19 fact-check licenses or reviews for organisations to become fact-checkers,” Sky News reports. “Susca holds a key position with the International Fact-Checking Network which allows her to grant fact-checking licenses and audit decisions.”
Facebook partnered with IFCN following the 2016 election after the organization complained in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the election was influenced by misinformation shared on the platform. Facebook now only uses IFCN-certified fact-checkers to police what they deem misinformation on its platform — however, just because a fact-checker is certified by the IFCN does not necessarily mean that it is also working with Facebook.
In its report, Sky News Australia noted that Susca gave an interview with Russia Today in which she said that she found it “hard” to judge Trump objectively, saying: “It is hard for me to be an objective observer of this presidential administration when for years now they have continuously tried to delegitimize and marginalize news reporters for doing their constitutionally protected job.”
Sky News Australia also highlighted a social media post in which Susca admitted to being a years-long fan of Clinton and another post she retweeted that described Trump supporters as having “embraced” “racism”:
In 2019 Ms Susca posted a happy snap with failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton where she admitted “I’ve been on Team Hillary since 08 tbh” and said she was disappointed her likability did not resonate with the public in 2016.
“My boyfriend was her nuclear policy fellow for a year when she was in the Senate,” she wrote.
“Says she’s the smartest, wittiest, most likeable person. It just never came through I guess. So F***ing sad.”
Ms Susca also retweeted content that said: “A projected Joe Biden Win won’t erase the racism shown by Donald Trump and embraced by nearly half of the country’s electorate.”
In an Oct. 27, 2018 post, Susca suggested that Trump had praised white supremacists and neo-nazis in comments he made following the Charlottesville riots. “Trump’s ‘some very fine people on both sides’ reax to Charlottesville comes into focus today. His nationalistic rhetoric fans these flames,” Susca said, suggesting that Trump’s rhetoric had encouraged a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue (screenshot below).
Trump’s full comments following the Charlottesville riots reveal that he repeatedly condemned hate groups and was referring to “very fine people on both sides” of the public debate over whether to keep or remove Confederate statues.
As the 2020 election votes were still being tallied, Susca tweeted on Nov. 5 that carrying one of Trump’s press conferences live would be a “dereliction of duty” by media outlets (screenshot below).
In response to questions on whether her partisan political views may undermine her credibility and clash with IFCN’s standards for certified fact-checkers, Susca told The Daily Wire, “Identifying objective facts supported by publicly available research and information and holding personal political views are compatible, and both are important parts of informed civic discourse.”
Susca offered a more contentious response to a series of questions from Sky News Australia. The outlet reported (formatting adjusted):
Sky News Australia asked Ms Susca a series of questions about whether the public could have faith in her ability to be objective or whether she felt appearing on Russia Today hurt her credibility. Ms Susca described the questions as “threatening”.
“Are you independent of Comcast or Sky’s executives,” she said in her response. “Look at your own ownership and ethics before you threaten others working on these crucial issues and charge that they lack independence and a commitment to truth. Your email was meant to be threatening and, quite frankly, I find its tone abhorrent. I’ve worked in journalism or media for decades so your accusation that I don’t take it seriously is egregious and you should be ashamed of yourself.”
Ms Susca said her tweets were not a display of bias but a “call for news organizations to do fact-based journalism to help average citizens govern themselves in a democracy”.
“I think you’re starting off from a place of bad faith and you are, quite frankly, missing the point of the tweets specifically and my work generally,” she said.
In order to receive certification from the IFCN, an applicant must hold to certain standards of objectivity and fairness. According to the IFCN’s “code of principles,” a successful applicant for certification “is not as an organization affiliated with nor declares or shows support for any party, any politician or political candidate, nor does it advocate for or against any policy positions on any issues save for transparency and accuracy in public debate.”
An applicant must also ensure its “staff do not get involved in advocacy or publicise their views on policy issues the organization might fact check in such a way as might lead a reasonable member of the public to see the organization’s work as biased.”
Facebook did not immediately respond to The Daily Wire’s request for comment.
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