Apparently, including even one conservative voice on Facebook's roster of approved "fact checkers" is too much for liberal partisans in Silicon Valley. Case in point: As the Guardian reports, the social media giant's decision to formally include conservative magazine the Weekly Standard (a magazine best known in recent years for its staunch #NeverTrump stance) on its roster of fact checkers has prompted an outcry from liberals who have accused the site of bending to criticism from right-wing groups.
In other words, the outcry is because Facebook, a platform with roughly 2 billion users that has been called out for suppressing conservative views, has incorporated the concerns of roughly half the American electorate into an initiative that will greatly impact how content is displayed and shared on the social network.
What's more, Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute of Media Studies (the organization that's responsible for approving Facebook's fact checkers), gave the WS his organization's stamp of approval, claiming that the magazine had demonstrated adherence to the IFCN code of principles. The magazine has an internal fact-checking operation and has committed to not writing opinion pieces. The Standard was founded in the mid-1990s by Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes and John Podhoretz with support from Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch. It was initially intended to be an opinion magazine with a conservative bent meant to counter the popularity of liberal magazines like the Nation.
While the magazine distinguished itself during the run up to the 2016 vote due to its opposition to Trump, it has consistently angered liberals and members of progressive "watchdog" groups, as the Guardian explains.
Though the Weekly Standard is distinct from far-right publications like Breitbart that are known for publishing propaganda and misinformation, some have questioned whether it was an appropriate partner for Facebook given its ideological bent.
"I’m really disheartened and disturbed by this," said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a progressive watchdog group that published numerous criticisms of the Weekly Standard after the partnership was first rumored in October. "They have described themselves as an opinion magazine. They are supposed to be thought leaders."
Calling the magazine a "serial misinformer," Media Matters cited the Weekly Standard’s role in pushing false and misleading claims about Obamacare, Hillary Clinton and other political stories.
In recent years, the magazine also faced backlash for giving a platform to a contrarian climate scientist and for sending an anti-gay marketing email warning of the "homosexual lobby" and its "perverted vision for a homosexual America."
Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of the Facebook fact-checking partner Snopes.com, said she didn’t have specific concerns about the Weekly Standard, but was worried about the broader implications of Facebook choosing to rely on a partisan conservative outlet.
"If you’re going to be politicizing facts, no good can come of that," she said. "What they are saying is we consider you to be liberal. It doesn’t give us a lot of credit for being trained, being transparent."
To qualify for the fact-checking role, the Standard hired an "incredibly sharp" fact-checker, according to the magazine's editor-in-chief.
Stephen Hayes, the Weekly Standard’s editor-in-chief, told the Guardian in an email that the publication had been "formally" doing fact-checking for six months and had hired "an incredibly sharp" fact-checker, Holmes Lybrand. He added: "The work really does speak for itself."
Hayes praised Facebook for working with rightwing journalists: "I think it’s a good move for [Facebook] to partner with conservative outlets that do real reporting and emphasize facts. Our fact-checking isn’t going to seek conservative facts because we don’t believe there are 'conservative facts'. Facts are facts."
In an attempt to assuage the concerns of angered liberals, a Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian that the fact-checking team is only "one tool" for combating misinformation on Facebook.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the Weekly Standard, but told the Guardian: "We continue to believe that objective facts are objective facts. The political provenance of a given source is irrelevant if their reporting is factual … At Facebook, providing access to authentically fact-checked content is one of our top priorities and is just one of the tools we use to fight fake news."
Of course, as the Media Research Center has repeatedly demonstrated, so-called "objective" fact-checkers like Snopes and Politifact have done a poor job of keeping their own biases in check. But that doesn't matter to the progressives quoted in this article for the simple fact that they're also pushing an agenda - and on some level, they know it.