Facebook Suspends Election Interfering Fact Checker… For Now

August 29th, 2023 4:34 PM

Facebook suspended a fact checker that was caught election meddling last week, according to Sky News Australia.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, reportedly suspended fact checker Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Fact Lab (RMIT) after Sky News Australia reported that the fact checker flagged only one side of a major issue on the ballot in Australia’s upcoming election. Sky News announced on August 29 that Meta has now responded to the allegations claiming: “Considering both the nature of the allegations against RMIT and the upcoming referendum, we have decided to suspend RMIT from our fact-checking program pending the IFCN’s decision.” 

This fall, Australia is voting on a referendum on whether or not to amend its constitution which has sparked much debate. Sky News examined 17 fact-checks between May 3 and June 23 and found that the fact checker only flagged content presenting reasons to vote no on the referendum, according to the outlet’s report released last week. 

Jack Houghton, the Digital Editor for Sky News Australia and author of the investigative report, explained the gravity of the situation in a Sky News Breaking News segment. “RMIT stopped Australians on Facebook from seeing that debate and they’ve defended it at every step,” he said referring to an interview the outlet conducted about the hotly debated referendum which Facebook reportedly fact-checked. “So I would imagine that RMIT is not going to be happy with this but this is definitely a victory for journalism. It’s a victory for our ability to debate things and it’s a victory for our ability to do so without the influence of foreign funds.” 

Houghton referred to his bombshell discovery that Meta reportedly paid RMIT up to $740,000 (AUD) ($478,685. USD) per year “from an Irish Meta subsidiary.” His investigation also exposed that RMIT’s fact-checking certification from the Soros funded International Fact Checking network expired last December. Houghton additionally accused the group of violating IFCN’s Code of Principles, which forbids IFCN applicants from “unduly concentrat[ing] its fact-checking on any one side.”

Meta attempted to address these concerns in a statement to Sky News Australia confirming that the company suspended RMIT. “The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) requires participating organizations to demonstrate a commitment to nonpartisanship and fairness. The IFCN will determine whether RMIT FactLab’s expired certification should be reinstated,” Meta stated.

The platform also made clear that it has not changed its stance on fact-checkers more broadly despite the fact that they have repeatedly shown bias. "We remain steadfast in our commitment to stop the spread of misinformation on our services and continue to partner with AAP and AFP in Australia," the company declared.

Meta did not respond to MRC Free Speech America’s request for comment by the time of publishing.

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