(LifeSiteNews) – A prominent mainstream medical journal is once again standing up to Facebook for its policing of so-called COVID-19 “misinformation,” specifically calling out the lack of oversight and accountability subjected to the social giant’s top “fact-checking” partner, Lead Stories.
Last month, the British Medical Journal excoriated Facebook’s fact-checkers as “inaccurate, incompetent and irresponsible” for flagging a BMJ report exposing severe data integrity issues with a clinical trial for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine conducted by Ventavia Research Group.
The report alleged that the company “falsified data, unblinded patients, employed inadequately trained vaccinators, and was slow to follow up on adverse events reported in Pfizer’s pivotal phase III trial,” and that “despite receiving a direct complaint about these problems over a year ago, the FDA [US Food & Drug Administration] did not inspect Ventavia’s trial sites.”
Despite the report being based on “dozens of internal company documents, photos, audio recordings, and emails,” Lead Stories declared BMJ’s scoop to be “misleading” and claimed the whistleblower, fired Ventavia regional director Brook Jackson, lacked credibility.
BMJ responded in detail to Lead Stories’ claims at the time, and on Wednesday published a follow-up report on the broader issues the incident raised, namely “serious concerns about the “fact checking” being undertaken by third-party providers on behalf of Facebook, specifically the lack of accountability and oversight of their actions, and the resulting censorship of information.”
The report, which also details the original conflict, noted that Lead Stories says Facebook created the “Missing Context” label as a way to flag accurate stories it nevertheless found objectionable. “We agree that sometimes Facebook’s messaging about the fact-checking labels can sound overly aggressive and scary,” Lead Stories editor-in-chief Alan Duke says. “If you have an issue with their messaging, you should indeed take it up with them as we are unable to change any of it.”
BMJ then quoted University of Minnesota professor and HealthNewsReview publisher Gary Schwitzer as agreeing that Facebook’s criteria for deciding what to fact-check lacks transparency and consistency, and that there is an “inherent conflict of interest” in Facebook’s reliance on third-party fact-checkers. “So a company facing a credibility crisis hires you to help them out,” Schwitzer said. “There is an inherent pressure on the contractor, then, if they want to be paid, to come up with problems and to appear to help solve them.”
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, told BMJ that it is not involved in the fact-checking process, which Electronic Frontier Foundation executive director Jillian York says raised concerns about the lack of an “accountability structure” or “democratic process” to the system. “The broader issue at hand is that companies like Facebook and some of the traditional media establishments are reasonably concerned about vaccine misinformation but have swung so far in the opposite direction as to potentially shut down legitimate questions about major corporations like Pfizer,” which she said have histories of suppressing information.
The article also noted that Lead Stories faulted BMJ for one of its articles, by journalist Paul Thacker, appearing on the website of anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy’s group Children’s Health Defense. BMJ said that CHD republished the article and others “without complying with its licence terms. The BMJ’s legal team has asked the Children’s Health Defense to take the articles down.”
The report concludes by revealing that BMJ has submitted a complaint to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which operates the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), as well as an appeal to Facebook’s 20-member Oversight Board.
“We should all be very worried that Facebook, a multibillion dollar company, is effectively censoring fully fact-checked journalism that is raising legitimate concerns about the conduct of clinical trials,” says BMJ editor-in-chief Kamran Abbasi. “Facebook’s actions won’t stop The BMJ doing what is right, but the real question is: Why is Facebook acting in this way? What is driving its world view? Is it ideology? Is it commercial interests? Is it incompetence? Users should be worried that, despite presenting itself as a neutral social media platform, Facebook is trying to control how people think under the guise of ‘fact checking.’”
In the past, Lead Stories has falsely accused LifeSiteNews of publishing misinformation as well, on the subjects of COVID-19 and public-school indoctrination. In 2019, the Poynter Institute came under fire for temporarily labeling 29 mainstream conservative websites as “UnNews,” including LifeSiteNews, Live Action, the Daily Caller, CNS News, the Daily Wire, PJ Media, and The Blaze.