The British Medical Journal (BMJ), one of the oldest and most prestigious medical journals in the world, has slammed Facebook’s censorship of an investigative story commissioned by the Journal into alleged poor clinical trial research practices at Ventavia, a contractor used by Pfizer in its coronavirus vaccine trial.
The story commissioned by the BMJ was published on November 2 this year, but was promptly “fact checked” on Facebook by Lead Stories, one of Facebook’s third-party “fact checkers.” In its “fact check” of the BMJ, lead stories described the journal as a “news blog.” The BMJ is one of the leading medical journals in the world, and one of the oldest, with its first edition published in 1840, and claimed the investigation was a “hoax.” Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg testifies during a US House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing (Getty/AFP PHOTO/SAUL LOEB) Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) In an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, BMJ editors condemned Facebook’s fact-checking system, accusing the company of delegating responsibility to incompetent third parties. Via the BMJ: From November 10, readers began reporting a variety of problems when trying to share our article. Some reported being unable to share it. Many others reported having their posts flagged with a warning about “Missing context ... Independent fact-checkers say this information could mislead people.” Those trying to post the article were informed by Facebook that people who repeatedly share “false information” might have their posts moved lower in Facebook’s News Feed. Group administrators where the article was shared received messages from Facebook informing them that such posts were “partly false.” Readers were directed to a “fact check” performed by a Facebook contractor named Lead Stories. We find the “fact check” performed by Lead Stories to be inaccurate, incompetent and irresponsible. — It fails to provide any assertions of fact that The BMJ article got wrong — It has a nonsensical title: “Fact Check: The British Medical Journal Did NOT Reveal Disqualifying And Ignored Reports Of Flaws In Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trials” — The first paragraph inaccurately labels The BMJ a “news blog” — It contains a screenshot of our article with a stamp over it stating “Flaws Reviewed,” despite the Lead Stories article not identifying anything false or untrue in The BMJ article — It published the story on its website under a URL that contains the phrase “hoax-alert” We have contacted Lead Stories, but they refuse to change anything about their article or actions that have led to Facebook flagging our article. We have also contacted Facebook directly, requesting immediate removal of the “fact checking” label and any link to the Lead Stories article, thereby allowing our readers to freely share the article on your platform.
There is also a wider concern that we wish to raise. We are aware that The BMJ is not the only high quality information provider to have been affected by the incompetence of Meta’s fact checking regime. To give one other example, we would highlight the treatment by Instagram (also owned by Meta) of Cochrane, the international provider of high quality systematic reviews of the medical evidence. Rather than investing a proportion of Meta’s substantial profits to help ensure the accuracy of medical information shared through social media, you have apparently delegated responsibility to people incompetent in carrying out this crucial task. Fact checking has been a staple of good journalism for decades. What has happened in this instance should be of concern to anyone who values and relies on sources such as The BMJ. We hope you will act swiftly: specifically to correct the error relating to The BMJ’s article and to review the processes that led to the error; and generally to reconsider your investment in and approach to fact checking overall. Lead Stories has been the subject of controversy on numerous occasions. Even among Facebook’s politically biased fact-checkers, it has still managed to stand out for its partisan activity, going out of its way to defend Democrat candidates, and once even fact-checking a critique of itself. Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. He is the author of #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election.
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