Facebook insists its "fact-checks" are "opinion" and not based on facts, says a veteran reporter who sued the company.
John Stossel, a TV reporter for more than 50 years, recently sued Facebook, now known as Meta, for defamation. He said one of the social media giant's "fact-checkers," a group called Science Feedback, lied about him.
He also said a Facebook fact-checker admitted that one of Stossel’s videos was red-flagged due to its "tone" — not because it contained false statements.
Stossel said Facebook's lawyers responded to him in court and claimed the company's "fact-checks" are merely "opinion" and therefore immune from defamation.
"Wait — Facebook's fact-checks are just 'opinion'?! I thought fact-checks are statements of fact," Stossel wrote in a column Monday for the New York Post.
"That's how Facebook portrays them on its Web site: 'Each time a fact-checker rates a piece of content as false, Facebook significantly reduces the content’s distribution ... We ... apply a warning label that links to the fact-checker’s article, disproving the claim.'
"'Disproving.' Sure sounds like Facebook claims its labels are statements of fact."
Stossel said Facebook's claims reminded him of TV hosts, who, when sued, employ an "opinion" defense. Then again, people such as Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow are known for giving opinions. One likely assumes Facebook fact-checks are based on facts.
Stossel's lawsuit came after Facebook accused the reporter of saying something he didn't say.
After making a video in which he said California’s wildfires were caused mostly by poor government management, Stossel said Facebook censored that as "misleading."
"They linked to a Science Feedback post that puts the following sentence in quotation marks, as if it were something I said: 'Forest fires are caused by poor management. Not by climate change,'" Stossel wrote. "But I never said that!"
Stossel said Facebook's reviewers either took the quotation from someone else or made it up.
"In my video, I acknowledge, 'Climate change has made things worse!' I just argued that government mismanagement was a bigger factor," Stossel said. "Climate change hit lots of forests, but well-managed forests fared much better."
Stossel said he contacted Science Feedback's reviewers, and two agreed to on-camera interviews.
"When I asked what was misleading about my video, they surprised me by saying that they hadn't even watched my video," Stossel said. "They offered no defense for posting words in quotation marks that I’d never said."
Stossel said Facebook fact-checkers declared another of his climate videos partly false.
"I asked a Science Feedback reviewer what was wrong with my climate-crisis video, and he admitted that he and his other fact-checkers found no incorrect facts. Instead, they simply didn’t like my tone," Stossel said. "The problem is the omission of contextual information rather than specific 'facts' being wrong."
Stossel said Facebook’s alleged censorship has cost him millions of views for his videos because "each time a fact-checker rates a piece of content as false, Facebook significantly reduces the content’s distribution."
"Facebook is a private company, so it can censor whomever it wants. But what Facebook is doing lately is just sleazy," Stossel said.
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