The BMJ (a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal, published by the British Medical Association) has locked horns with Facebook and the guardians of international fact-checking after one of its surveys was wrongly labeled with ‘missing context’ and censored on the largest social network in the world. network.
Published on November 2, 2021, the investigation found poor clinical trial research practices at Ventavia, a contract research company helping to carry out the main trial of the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine. But readers soon started reporting issues when they attempted to share the article and were directed to a “fact check” by a Facebook contractor named Lead Stories.
In the past two months The BMJThe editorial staff navigated unsuccessfully through the opaque appeals process, and even today, its investigation remains obscured on Facebook.
In December The BMJ wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook’s parent company Meta, asking the company to review the warning placed on The BMJof the investigation and review the processes that led to the addition of the warning and reconsider the company’s overall approach to fact-checking.
After Meta refused to intervene, The BMJ now plans to appeal to Facebook’s Oversight Board, an independent panel that can decide whether Facebook should allow or remove specific content.
It was this panel that upheld the decision to ban former US President Donald Trump from posting on Facebook and Instagram after the storming of the Capitol in Washington, DC, in which five people died. . [Four Trump supporters died, including Ashli Babbitt, an unarmed Air Force veteran who was shot and killed by Capitol Police officer Lt. Michael Byrd. USCP Officer Brian Sicknick died after suffering two strokes later, and District of Columbia Chief Medical Examiner Francisco J. Diaz ruled he died of natural causes. -ed]
The BMJ also filed a complaint with the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) which sets quality standards for fact-checking organizations and creates a verified list of companies that meet those standards, including Lead Stories.
Although he did not identify anything false or inaccurate in The BMJthe Lead Stories investigation refused to remove his article. He also questioned the credibility of both the author of the investigation and the former Ventavia employee on whose evidence it is based.
The BMJRebecca Coombes’s head of journalism and investigations editor Madlen Davies said the experience has highlighted serious concerns about the “fact-checking” undertaken by third-party vendors on Facebook’s behalf, particularly the lack of accountability and oversight of their actions, and the resulting censorship of information.
Gary Schwitzer of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health said the processes by which Facebook decides what content to send for fact-checking, and contractors’ systems for deciding what they review , were not sufficiently transparent or consistent.
Jillian York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes civil liberties in the digital world, sees a role in fact-checking and thinks it’s far superior to the alternative – which is that Facebook is simply removing content – but she said “I’m still concerned about the effect this may have on legitimate sources.”
Kamran Abbassi, The BMJ‘s editor, said: “We should all be very concerned that Facebook, a multi-billion dollar company, is effectively censoring fully verified journalism that raises legitimate concerns about the conduct of clinical trials.”
He adds: “Facebook’s actions will not stop The BMJ do what is right, but the real question is: why is Facebook doing this? What drives his worldview? Is it an ideology? Are they business interests? Is it incompetence? Users should be concerned that despite marketing itself as a neutral social media platform, Facebook tries to control how people think under the guise of “fact-checking.”