Researchers say Facebook should allow fact-checkers to fact-check politicians

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Disinformation researchers are arguing that Facebook should do more than just indefinitely block President Donald Trump. They argue the company should go further by doing away with its exemption of politicians from its Third-Party Fact-Checking program.

The program partners with independent fact-checking organizations from around the world who are signatories to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. These fact-checkers submit articles and ratings to Facebook, which the platform appends to a flagged post. Facebook independently decides whether to limit the distribution of that post.

Posts from politicians are not eligible for fact-checking. A help page explaining the company’s policy says, “by limiting political speech, we would leave people less informed about what their elected officials are saying and leave politicians less accountable for their words.”

The one exception to this rule is if politicians share content that has previously been debunked by fact-checkers. There the help page explains Facebook, “will demote that content, display a warning and reject its inclusion in ads. This is different from a politician’s own claim or statement.”

“I think the exemption is effectively pulling the biggest sharpest teeth from the whole point of fact-checking as a means of controlling disinformation and the damage it can cause,” said Alexi Drew, a postdoctoral research associate at King’s College London.

She argued that disinformation does the most damage when its spread by those with perceived legitimacy, adding that one of the greatest sources of legitimacy is a political office.

“If you don’t fact check that you’re ignoring one of the greatest potential risk factors for spreading misinformation that exists on your platform,” Drew said.

Masato Kajimoto, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Hong Kong and founder of the fact-checking organization Annie Lab, echoed Drew’s statements.

“In many Asian countries, politicians are one of the major sources and disseminators of misinformation and disinformation who have a wide reach and influence,” Kajimoto wrote in an email to the IFCN. “They should be held more accountable for what they say, in my view.”

Lucas Graves, associate professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, empathized with Facebook’s effort to balance the public’s right to hear from its leaders with the platform’s goals of stopping disinformation.

“There are legitimate questions raised around the treatment of public figures when by definition their statements have news value,” Graves said. However, he argued the current policy gives political figures across the globe license to spread falsehoods with impunity.

“It’s really well established anecdotally, and through systematic studies, that public figures, high follower accounts are crucial nodes in disseminating misinformation,” Graves said. He added that this is an argument that political figures’ accounts deserve more scrutiny, and reasoned that fact-checking strikes a balance between the public’s right to hear from their leaders and efforts to combat harmful disinformation.

“The good thing about fact-checking as a solution is that it doesn’t actually suppress speech,” Graves said. “It annotates speech, it qualifies speech.”

The IFCN reached out to representatives from Facebook for comment, but did not receive a reply before publication. We will update this story if we receive comments from Facebook.

Drew acknowledged that any effort to moderate content on social media will be seen by some as censorship. However, she argued this demonstrates the importance of having independent organizations like fact-checkers involved in checking the veracity of a politician’s posts.

“If those independent organizations check the content of any politician’s tweet or message is false or wrong, then (platforms) should label it as false, and then link to credible sources,” Drew said.

All three researchers acknowledged the complex challenges that companies like Facebook are tasked with when it comes to content moderation, however, Drew and Kajimoto said this complexity calls for independent entities to adjudicate these issues outside the influence of the tech platforms.

“They’re technologists, and technologists are not ensconced with the second order issues they need to understand to make these discussions effective,” Drew said.

“Even though those platforms are private entities, their business models rely on providing public spaces where people gather,” Kajimoto wrote. “If there is a dispute, it has to be an impartial body that should decide if the speech is harmful or not in a fair manner with a proper appeals process.”

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Fact check: Facebook post omits key information in questions over severity of COVID-19 pandemic

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A ‘copy and paste’ Facebook status that misleads social media users about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has circulated online.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The 662-word post lists over 30 questions that express scepticism, including: “Why are there many videos of empty hospitals?” and “Why does 2020 have the 14th highest overall world death toll in last 30 yrs?” (here, here, here, here).

The post will examine seven questions in the post, which can be considered the primary claims. The remaining questions, various of which include expression of opinion, are outside the scope of this check.

Question one asks: “Why did a Cambridge PCR test study of 10k people show 100% of their positives to be false?” This question refers to testing of students carried out by the University of Cambridge. On Dec. 6, 2020 the student testing report showed 9,376 students from 1,937 different ‘pools’ gave readable swabs. Ten of the 1,937 pools generated positive results in initial testing but the individuals in the pools were retested and gave negative results. Fact-checkers Full Fact reported about this in depth here .

Question two asks: “Why are there many videos of empty hospitals?” This question follows a spate of videos showing quiet corridors in some hospital buildings. The BBC News Reality Check team recently examined these videos ( and reported: “because of the way healthcare trusts have reorganised hospitals, often separating Covid patients from others, and cancelling non-urgent care to free up capacity, some parts of hospital buildings will currently look empty. That doesn’t mean hospitals aren’t busy.” Reuters has also published fact checks into individual videos showing quiet hospital buildings (here, here). The latest government figures show there are over 37,000 COVID-19 patients in UK hospitals (here).

Question three asks “Why are the Nightingale facilities being dismantled & closing?” The limited use of the emergency Nightingale hospitals set up during the pandemic’s first wave has been the subject of scrutiny. The government said in December they remained on standby (here) and London’s Nightingale hospital last week reopened to treat non-COVID-19 patients and reduce pressure on the city’s hospitals (here).

Question four reads: “Why is there video after video of people pretending to administer vaccines?” The post doesn’t direct to any specific examples, however Reuters has debunked various rumours that photos and videos taken of COVID-19 vaccine recipients are staged (here, here, here, here)

Question five states: “Why does 2020 have the 14th highest overall world death toll in last 30 yrs?” The Facebook post does not say where the figures came from. However, exactly the same claim – that 2020 had the 14th highest death toll in the last 30 years – was earlier made on Twitter with reference to UK mortality rates (here).

The graph calculated the average number of deaths per population between 1991 – and 2018 by dividing total annual UK deaths ( by annual UK population estimates (here) and multiplying that figure by a thousand. There was not a full data set for 2020 when the graph was published, however, so it relied on estimated death rates for the final two months of the year for Northern Ireland and Scotland and the final five weeks for England and Wales. The graph does not reference how the estimates were calculated.

Since this table was published, Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published a blog comparing deaths in 2020 to previous years (here). “There are several ways to measure mortality and to fully understand we must look at this in a number of ways,” the author Sarah Caul says, explaining why five-year average and age-standardised mortality rates are useful indicators.

Returning to the claim about world mortality rates, there is no complete data yet to assess whether 2020 had the 14th highest overall world death toll. The latest figures do, however, show that most countries saw an increase in excess deaths in 2020. Produced by researchers from Oxford University, ‘Our World In Data’ updates its figures on excess mortality – that’s the number of deaths over and above the 5-year historical average – during the pandemic each week. The latest update on Jan. 9, 2021 found that every country except Israel and Taiwan saw increased excess deaths between Jan. 5, 2020 and Dec. 27, 2020 ( and here). They note, however, that this data cannot be calculated for every country, as few have statistical agencies able to report daily or weekly death tolls (here). The figures also do not include the most recent weeks of countries’ data series due to delays in reporting (here).

Another question asks: “Asymptomatic transfer is now debunked, so why are we still using this data to enforce restrictions?” This statement is not correct and may relate to a viral claim from December 2020 that a study found no asymptomatic spread of coronavirus. Fact-checkers Politifact wrote: “The journal article in question found people with symptoms were more contagious than those without, but asymptomatic people did transmit the virus.”(here)

It’s not clear why some patients who test positive for the virus do not display any symptoms, but health officials believe they pose less transmission risk. However, the people they infect may display symptoms (here).

Finally, the post states: “Why, when they have already been caught in August exaggerating death figures, do you not think they’d do it again?” The claim refers to the government’s decision in August to stop reporting all deaths after a positive test as a coronavirus death and introducing a cut-off of 28 days and 60 days following a positive test to record coronavirus deaths. This reduced the total number of coronavirus deaths in England but did not mean the government was ‘caught’ exaggerating deaths. The change in methodology, addressed previously by Reuters Fact Check (here), was made after the government reviewed its own data and learnt more about the virus.


Partly false: This lengthy post includes claims about the coronavirus pandemic that are either incorrect or misleading due to missing context.

Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts .