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REPORT: Row Over Abortion, Climate Change Spurs Facebook To Exempt Opinion, Advocacy From Fact Checks

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Facebook plans to exempt opinion content and political advocacy organizations from the social media giant’s independent fact checking efforts, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing anonymous sources.

The company plans to also allow publishers of information found to be false to appeal directly to Facebook, sources told TheWSJ, adjusting previous operating procedure that restricted brands and individuals to appealing directly to fact-checkers. Posts deemed either opinion or satire won’t be labeled as false even if they contain information fact checkers deemed inaccurate, the report noted.

Facebook’s change of heart is reportedly linked to recent spats over a Washington Examiner oped on climate change and a Live Action video on abortion.

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WSJ’s report comes just after reporters said Facebook’s Sept. 25  decision to exempt politicians like President Donald Trump from a fact-checkers’ gavel will likely turn social media into a cauldron of misinformation.

Controversy around the program has hit a fever pitch recently. The Daily Caller News Foundation reported Sept. 24 that Facebook removed a false label on a Washington Examiner editorial published in August that expresses skepticism about the effectiveness of climate models.

The authors of the Washington Examiner piece —  scientists Caleb Rossiter and Patrick Michaels — told CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Sept. 10 letter that the fact check was done in a partisan fashion. They said in the letter that Facebook used a partisan fact-check group — Climate Feedback — to defame them.

Climate Feedback’s review is “replete with errors and simple differences of opinion,” they argued in the letter to Zuckerberg. The editorial suggested a variety of serious issues in choice of climate data sets often lead researchers to believe global temperatures are rising more than is observed.

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Other editorials have gotten wrapped up in the fact check kerfuffle. The tech company was criticized after an Aug. 30 fact check, published in Health Feedback, targeted an Aug. 9 video from anti-abortion group Live Action that included the statement “abortion is never medically necessary.”

Dr. Jennifer Gunter is listed in an updated version of the fact check’s read more section.

Gunter, who authored a book called “The Vagina Bible,” has openly criticized Live Action and its founder Lila Rose on Twitter, calling Rose on Aug. 31 “a forced birther who knows nothing about medical care.”

Zuckerberg acknowledged in a Sept. 19 discussion with Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, that the fact check of Live Action was done in a biased way.

The decision to exempt editorials also comes as Facebook faces pressure from the media and activists to limit the distribution of misinformation.

“I know Facebook doesn’t want to be in the middle of this, but here they are,” Angie Drobnic Holan, the editor of PolitiFact, told reporters. She is a member of the board of the International Fact-Checking Network, the group accrediting Facebook’s fact-checking partners,

“There are cases where the line between fact and opinion are not as bright as you might think,” Holan added. Facebook has not responded to the DCNF’s request to confirm TheWSJ’s report.

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