Scandal: Fact Checkers Fail at Accountability

complaint to the international fact-checking network about PolitiFact

A Pair of Peculiar Complaint Results

AltNews

In June 2019 the IFCN announced one of its verified signatories from India, AltNews, was accused of breaching the IFCN Code of Principles.

Accusers said one of the founders of AltNews, Pratik Sinha, sustains membership in the Jan Sangharsh Manch organization. The critics said that relationship violated the IFCN principle stipulating political neutrality.

The IFCN investigated by asking four questions of AltNews. Based on the answers to those questions and undisclosed deliberations, the IFCN decided that involvement with Jan Sangharsh Manch did not count as political involvement:

Twitter

The key reason? Jan Sangharsh Manch “is not a registered body or a political organization linked to a political party in India.”

Is an unregistered organization therefore non-political? Jan Sangharsh Manch grew out of a group of labor unions. And some of its members founded India’s “New Socialist Party.”

The justification the IFCN published for its decision could have passed as subjective. The IFCN never released more information about its “in-depth consideration” or “consultations with the assessor.”

The IFCN should have worked harder to lay questions to rest.

Science Feedback/Health Feedback defines “abortion”

In August 2019 a fact check from Facebook fact-checking partner and IFCN-verified signatory Science Feedback, under its “Health Feedback” banner, temporarily resulted in restricted distribution of a video featuring Lila Rose, a “pro-life” activist.

The group Live Action had posted the video to its Facebook page and submitted objections to Facebook after Health Feedback labeled its video “Inaccurate.”

Facebook looked to the IFCN to settle the complaint. The IFCN split the baby in half, finding the fact check accurate but below the IFCN standard for failing to disclose the bias of some of the medical experts it cited.

Facebook lifted the restrictions on the Live Action video and some on the left objected (ex: Rolling Stone).

Zebra Fact Check reviewed the fact check and the IFCN review (conducted by outside assessor Sarphan Uzunoglu) and found it overlooked obvious signs of bias. For example, the fact check insisted on defining “abortion” as a medical procedure to “end a pregnancy” regardless of the survival of the fetus. The rigged definition played a central role in the supposed debunking of the Live Action video.

Health Feedback (Science Feedback):

(A)bortion is medically defined as a procedure to end a pregnancy – this definition does not change depending on the reasons for an abortion, i.e. whether the procedure is motivated by an unwanted pregnancy or medical emergency or some other situation has no effect on its medical definition

That definition effectively included induced delivery as well as cesarean section. When have “anti-abortionists” ever objected to either?

A definition of “abortion” that included the idea of destroying the fetus would have worked to support Rose’s argument in the video. Those definitions exist but Science Feedback elected not to use them.

The IFCN review overlooked multiple problems that should have publicly discredited all the fact check’s key findings.

That’s a scandal.

What Next?

Upon finding these problems with the IFCN process, of course it made sense to share them with the IFCN and work toward solutions.

As the next section shows, we failed to obtain any acknowledgment of any problem from the IFCN.

3 Comments

  1. Julian Ciaha

    No wonder the IFCN has done nothing regarding Zebra’s complaints about Politifact as the Poynter Institute that created the IFCN also just happens to own…Politifact! How is that for a serious conflict of interest?!

    Reply
  2. Julian Ciaha

    Micheal Wagner : ” PolitiFact is an excellent, transparent, industry-leading fact-checking site owned by Poynter”….Politifact is “transparent”?! I would like Wagner to show me the link anywhere online that has Politifact’s (or Poynter’s )annual reports so that the public can see an itemized List of Donors for each year….not holding my breath on that one!

    Reply
    1. Bryan W. White (Post author)

      While PolitiFact does not list individual donors (not even those giving $1,000 or more as FactCheck.org does), it is reasonably transparent about its funding.

      https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2018/feb/12/principles-truth-o-meter-politifacts-methodology-i/#Our%20funding

      PolitiFact also links to a version of a filing form for its parent organization, the Poynter Institute. I didn’t see much on that for relating directly to PolitiFact, umbrellaed as it is under the Poynter Institute.

      Wagner laid it on pretty thick overall, but transparency on funding is one area where he’s not far from the mark.

      Reply

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