Democratic Party Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez challenged Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg on his policy allowing disinformation to be run in political advertisements on the social media platform during the tech magnate’s testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on October 23 2019.
“Would I be able to run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal?” the New York lawmaker asked. “I mean, if you’re not fact-checking political advertisements, I’m just trying to understand the bounds here, what’s fair game.”
“I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head,” he replied. “I think probably.”
“So, you won’t take down lies or you will take down lies? I think that’s just a pretty simple yes or no.”
— CSPAN (@cspan) October 23, 2019
The day after that exchange a political action group, the Really Online Lefty League, posted a video on Facebook claiming that Sen. Lindsey Graham and other conservatives would be endorsing the “Green New Deal.”
.@theleftyleague PAC is running a Facebook ad that falsely claims @LindseyGrahamSC endorsed the Green New Deal, to draw attention to issues around false claims in FB ads. On Wed, @AOC grilled Mark Zuckerberg about a scenario like this: https://t.co/JEfHKXzAD8 pic.twitter.com/zNbKmXFPOk
— Elizabeth Culliford (@eculliford) October 25, 2019
A company spokesperson told Reuters that the ad would be sent to Facebook’s fact-checking partners because it came from a group and not the congresswoman herself.
Facebook has claimed that allowing political advertisements to be exempt from its fact-checking partnership with other websites helps readers, because it would allow them to see what politicians were saying. Though Zuckerberg did say his site would not allow an ad to run if it gave the wrong election date — a voter suppression tactic — he largely stuck to that view during the hearing.
“So you won’t take down lies or you will take down lies?” she asked.
“In a democracy, I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians that they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves,” he replied.
Ocasio-Cortez also asked Zuckerberg to explain the inclusion of the blog Check Your Fact in his site’s fact-checking partnership, though she identified the site by the name of its parent blog, the Daily Caller.
“Can you explain why you named the Daily Caller — a publication well-documented with ties to white supremacists — as an official fact-checker for Facebook?” she asked.
“We actually don’t approve the independent fact-checkers,” he responded. “They actually go through an independent organization called the Independent Fact-Checking Network that has a rigorous standard for who they allow to serve as fact-checkers.” (IFCN actually stands for the International Fact-Checking Network.)
In turn, the lawmaker asked, “So you would say that white supremacist-tied publications meet a rigorous standard for fact-checking?”
“I would say that we’re not the one assessing that standard — the International Fact-Checking Network is the one who is saying that,” Zuckerberg replied, this time stating the correct name for the network.
While Check Your Fact operates independently from the Daily Caller, the latter was the subject of an August 2017 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) about its “white supremacist problem,” highlighting both former deputy editor Scott Greer and the ties that contributors Peter Bremelow and Jason Kessler have to hate groups. A Daily Caller News Foundation reporter, Andrew Kerr, was later revealed as a guest on a podcast hosted by conspiracy theorist Brittany Pettibone.
As the Columbia Journalism Review reported in April 2019, Facebook’s vice-president of public policy, Joel Kaplan — a former administration official under Republican President George W. Bush — first pushed in 2018 for Check Your Fact to be made part of the debunking project, which includes several sites ratified by IFCN. But the blog’s IFCN certification was placed under review in November 2018 after it was asked to “more clearly listing its funding and budget.”
The site was later reinstated after providing funding information.
We asked Facebook if Zuckerberg was attributing Check Your Fact’s inclusion in the program solely to the International Fact Checking Network; a spokesperson told us via email:
The International Fact-Checking Network does not appoint our fact-checkers, but being certified by the IFCN is a prerequisite for being in our program. Given this, all of our fact-checking partners are all certified by the IFCN, who publishes its Code of Principles. IFCN signatories agree to commit to a standard of “non-partisanship and fairness”and to ensure that they meet other journalistic standards like having a corrections policy and transparency of sources, methodology, and their funding. Since we don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be the arbiters of truth, we rely on the International Fact-Checking Network to set guidelines for these high standards.
We also contacted the IFCN seeking comment. However, the group’s director Baybars Örsek told reporter Judd Legum, “We don’t appoint any fact-checking org from our verified signatories to work with Facebook.”
Updated October 24, 2019, 2:11 p.m. EST with a comment from Baybars Örsek.
Updated October 25, 2019, 8:16 p.m. EST with mention on video from Really Online Lefty League and Facebook’s response.