Meta, formerly Facebook, claims it wants to “fact-check” content on its social media platforms to “effectively and safely combat rampant misinformation,” especially as it pertains to COVID-19 and health-related issues.

Its algorithm detects related videos and posts with health claims and directs users to their delegated COVID-19 Information Center. The Meta-endorsed Corona Virus Information Hub works closely with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and national ministries of health, according to their website

Topics like alternative treatments, vaccine hesitancy, and vaccine effectiveness are frequent targets (in terms of health content) that Facebook wants to monitor in its quest to reduce “misinformation.”

Despite the company’s principle of “non-partisanship,” their key partners have glaring conflicts of interest with international conglomerate news companies, vaccine investors, and now Pfizer, which holds the top spot for COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the U.S. Subscribe to the Trialsitenews “COVID-19” ChannelNo spam – we promise

Meta, the social media tech giant and parent company of Facebook, says it aims to “fight the spread of misinformation” and provide people with “more reliable information” through their journalistic media partners

Facebook claims their partners are “independent third-party fact-checkers that are certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN).” This program has expanded to more than 100 organizations working with 60 languages around the world.

“Since we do not believe that a private company like Facebook should be the arbiters of truth, we rely on fact-checkers to identify, review and rate potential misinformation across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Their work enables us to take action and reduce the spread of problematic content across our apps,” says the Facebook website. These actions include placing warning flags on videos they deem harmful, de-monetizing or removing videos, and removing posts or accounts altogether. Facebook will even ask its users if they “are sure” they want to be friends with another user who has posted controversial information in the past.

But in the past few months, several events and uncovered details reveal a pattern of doubt that the fact-checkers whom Facebook uses are truly independent third-parties, and instead are inappropriately linked to the pharmaceutical industry, several corporate media outlets, and highly-influential members and supporters of the Democratic Party.

Here are the circumstances, and an interesting web of connections that TrialSite raises as important to consider when deliberating what sources of information are trustworthy in the age of viral content and the debate of misinformation. 

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) 

The ICFJ, a global network of journalists, is partnering with Meta on Meta’s Journalism Project. Their website states that they serve the community by “training, mentoring, fellowships and financial support in investigative journalism, critical-issues reporting, media innovation and business sustainability, as well as through cutting-edge research and resources.” 

Under their Financial Transparency page, their 2021 fiscal year information is not present. Their fiscal information for 2020 does not include a section for “Friends and Supporters,” but there is one for 2019. (Maybe they will be updating their current sponsors soon.)

For 2019, listed in the “Foundations” section are John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Scripps Howard Foundation, among others. Also, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is listed second “in order of support” and is a notable conflict of interest since Gates’ foundation has donated millions of dollars to Moderna for the advancement of mRNA technology for HIV and COVID-19 vaccines, among others. TrialSite has reported that Gates made windfall profits on his BioNTech investment.

ICFJ is a lead sponsor of the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication, which trains journalists to work for the (CCP) Chinese Communist Party-run media outlets and is partnered also with Bloomberg News. In the Dean’s welcome letter, he introduces the program and its values by stating: “Firstly, we should be committed to a firm and correct political orientation. Our school has been actively exploring the theory and practices of Marxist Journalism, namely, to applying the Marxist theory in observing the world, selecting and handling news production.” 

ICFJ’s Arthur F. Burns Fellowship 

This fellowship, (the longest-running program of the ICFJ,) “provides talented young U.S., German and Canadian journalists the opportunity to live and work in each other’s country. This highly personalized and practical program improves the quality of news coverage in each country and strengthens the transatlantic relationship,” according to their site

The Burns Fellowship lists Pfizer among their Corporate U.S. Sponsors. The list also includes Bloomberg Philanthropies, Goldman Sachs & Co., and The Wall Street Journal

The Open Society Foundations 

The financial backing for ICFJ comes from a company called the Open Society Foundations (OSF). George Soros is the founder and chair. According to the Open Society Foundations’ website, Soros “has given away more than $32 billion of his personal fortune to fund their projects world-wide.” Using a non-partisan database, Open Secrets, Soros gave roughly $126.8 million exclusively to democratic campaigns and organizations in 2021 alone. The OSF site mentions that “more than 40 Burns alumni now work as foreign correspondents in 20 countries for well-known outlets such as The Washington Post, Reuters, CNN…” among others.

Facebook’s Other Fact-Checking Partners

The Meta Journalism Project lists several national and international journalism organizations, and media organizations as its partners. Poynter is one of many. On Poynter’s site, they mention a collaborative project called FactChat. It unites U.S fact-checking organizations with two major Spanish-language news broadcasters, Telemundo and Univision. These Spanish news networks translate and distribute fact-checking articles from Check Your Fact, FactCheck.org, Lead Stories, MediaWise, PolitiFact, The Dispatch, The Washington Post Fact Checker, Science Feedback and USA Today.

Another media organization of note is one of the largest news agencies in the world, Reuters. James C. Smith was President, CEO and Director of Thomson Reuters Corporation until 2020 and was a Pfizer director since 2014. He now serves as Chairman of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and as a Board Member. Additionally, he is a Chair of Pfizer’s Compensation Committee and a Member of their Audit Committee, according to Pfizer’s website. Smith also serves on the board of the World Economic Forum’s, Partnering Against Corruption Initiative.

Most notably, Facebook’s ubiquitous messaging of serving its community by presenting unbiased facts and discrediting “COVID-19 misinformation,” misaligns when it comes to lawsuits; CEO Mark Zuckerberg prefers the term “opinions” instead. 

As a defendant in a defamation lawsuit against plaintiff John Stossel, Zuckerberg’s defense’s argument was to absolve the company of wrong-doing because their fact-checkers’ statements are actually “opinion,” and therefore are not subject to defamation lawsuits. But news outlets are not exempt, as they are operating as entities who are obligated to share only facts. Facebook straddles the line between news source and social opinions. Therefore, in legal terms, unlike a news outlet, who would have to prove their claims are truthful when attacking someone’s character, there is no legal obligation to confirm opinions. 

Basically, Zuckerberg and Facebook can publish opinions as news.

Science Feedback Using Conflict-of-Interest Source to Refute a Claim 

Here is an example of the compromised fact-checking practices of Facebook’s Science Feedback

In Feb 2020, Science Feedback placed a verdict of “incorrect” on a claim made by the New York PostThe New York Post claimed that “evidence points to SARS-CoV-2 research being carried out at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” 

The Science Feedback fact-check article references a few experts in epidemiology and virology who refute the New York Post claim. However, the article goes on to say: 

Overall, this claim is based on unsupported speculations and scientific inaccuracies. In spite of this, it continues to be perpetuated in many outlets and public officials, have real-world repercussions. Peter Daszak, epidemiologist and president of the EcoHealth Alliance who has collaborated with WIV researchers, warned during an interview with the journal Science: “These rumors and conspiracy theories have real consequences, including threats of violence that have occurred to our colleagues in China.”

Daszak’s involvement compromises his credibility at face value. However, it becomes even more complex after the acquisition (via the Freedom of Information Act) of emails belonging to the Director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease (NIAID,) Dr. Anthony Fauci. These emails reveal that Fauci coordinated a meeting to discuss the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak with Daszak and others. The meeting was initiated by Fauci after a colleague studying the novel coronavirus informed Fauci that the virus may have man-made origins. 

Later, Fauci would deny any financial ties between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the research performed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It has now been confirmed that the Wuhan lab did, infact, receive millions of U.S. tax dollars to fund gain-of-function research (which experiments with engineering animal viruses to transfer to humans,) through the EcoHealth Alliance. See TrialSite’s coverage on the matter. 

In this same fact-checking article, the author cites themself as another source.

“To provide context for my opinion, I will disclose that I am a scientist trained to work in high containment and have collaborative projects with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). I have worked in this exact laboratory at various times for the past 2 years. I can personally attest to the strict control and containment measures implemented while working there. The staff at WIV are incredibly competent, hardworking, and are excellent scientists with superb track records,” writes the author. Author is unnamed but an editor is listed, Flora Teoh.

Why would anyone who previously worked in “this exact laboratory” be qualified to scrutinize claims made against that institution? 

Final Thoughts

It’s fair to assume that these findings are only a partial view of the conflicts-of-interest that are rampant between government health operations, private sectors and even non-profits. These problematic relationships have eroded public trust in hospital systems, government health officials, political leaders, news media, Big Pharma, and Big Tech. 

In addition to fact-checking third-parties, news media outlets receive advertising support from Big Pharma directly. Regulatory agencies like the FDA also depend on direct fees from Big Pharma, which account for approximately 45% of their budget

In healthcare, hospitals are advised only to utilize patented Big Pharma drugs for COVID-19 and are compromised by the U.S. government’s relief act that provides an extra 20% premium for COVID-19 Medicare Patients.

With the fact-checkers so closely aligned with the drug-makers and healthcare establishment, the question arises: who fact-checks the fact-checkers, and who watches the watchers?

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