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Politifact Founder Predicts Social Media Will Be Used to ‘Suppress Misinformation’ More Often This Year – HotAir

I completely missed this when it was published at the end of last month. Fortunately, Jesse Singal did a great write-up about it which I noticed today. As you may know, Bill Adair is the founder of Politifact, a site which has generate a lot of content for this blog over the years. Last month, Adair was asked to share his predictions for 2024 and he wrote a piece titled “Fact-checking needs a reboot.” Part of that reboot would be pressuring social media companies to “suppress misinformation” more often.

After I founded PolitiFact in 2007, I often said that our goal wasn’t to change people’s minds or get politicians to stop lying — it was simply to inform democracy. In the last few years, I’ve changed my mind. “Informing democracy” is not enough in an age of rampant lies about elections and public health and climate. Fact-checkers need to be more assertive in getting truthful information to the audience that needs it.

In 2024, they will dream up new ways of getting the facts to the people who need them. Fact-checkers will be bold and think more like marketers trying to push content rather than publishers waiting for the audience to come to a website. They will experiment with new forms that target the people who are misinformed and push the content directly to them.

Another way they will innovate: They’ll get tech companies and social media platforms to expand the use of fact-checking data to suppress misinformation.

If you’re someone who is firmly ensconced in the mainstream of progressive journalism, this probably sounds great. The problem is that if you have any other point of view this is a bit worrisome. Here’s Singal’s take:

This article fits neatly into a recent obsession, in some liberal circles, with the idea that the United States can fact-check its way out of various social ills and political crises. This has brought with it some fairly ominous-seeming ideas about what a “fact” is and who gets to “check” it. In this case, Adair offers no hint as to how we should determine what crosses so far into “misinformation” that it should be suppressed. Not “corrected,” not “contextualized via a note from an editor” — suppressed!

Even though he doesn’t say so, it stands to reason that as anti-misinformation technology improves (or “improves”) and more misinformation (or “misinformation”) is suppressed, it’ll be the Bills Adair of the world and their PolitiFacts that get to determine what is sufficiently untrue as to warrant suppression. This raises an obvious question: How have they done so far?

Immediately, all sorts of things come to mind. The shooting of Michael Brown. The coverage of the Steele dossier. The Hunter Biden laptop story. The possibility of a lab leak. But as Singal points out, we don’t have to go that far back for an example. How about the media coverage of the shooting of Jacob Blake and the shootings by Kyle Rittenhouse that happened days later in Kenosha?

Having followed the coverage of both things closely, I can tell you it was pretty awful. It wasn’t just Politifact but outlets like the Washington Post that continued to describe Blake as “unarmed” even though video showed police ordering him to “Drop the knife!”

Even after Blake admitted in a television interview that he did have a knife he came up with a new story that he only wanted to put the knife in the car and then he was going to drop to the ground and surrender. There’s zero evidence this was true. Video shows he had fought with police and was clearly trying to get into the car and drive away, which incidentally is why police were called in the first place. But here’s how the Post reported it.

The coverage of Kyle Rittenhouse was even worse. It was considered a given by most outlets that Rittenhouse was a vigilante murderer. When President Trump suggested based on video that it might have been self-defense, that in itself became news.

President Donald Trump suggested Monday that a 17-year-old accused of killing two people during the civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, may have acted in self defense.

“You saw the same tape as I saw, and he was trying to get away from them,” Trump said at a White House press briefing when asked about Kyle Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse, an Illinois resident, was arrested last week after two people were fatally shot during the tumultuous protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake…

“I guess it looks like and he fell and then they very violently attacked him and it was something we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation,” Trump said at the briefing Monday evening.

Politfact did fact-check this statement and concluded that Trump was wrong.

Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, approached Rittenhouse and a reporter interviewing him that night and began to chase Rittenhouse after he did a “juke” move. Rosenbaum threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse, but it didn’t hit him.

The two ended up in a parking lot, and the reporter told authorities that Rosenbaum tried to grab Rittenhouse’s gun. Rittenhouse fired four shots, and Rosenbaum dropped to the ground in front of him.

In a video, Rittenhouse can be heard saying on his cell phone, “I just killed someone.”

Rittenhouse began running slowly down the street as a crowd began to follow him, with some people shouting “get him!” and shouting he just shot someone. Rittenhouse tripped and fell.

While he was on the ground, police say, he appeared to fire two shots at a man who jumped over him but missed.

After that, Anthony Huber, 26, ran up to Rittenhouse with a skateboard in one hand and appeared to hit him with it before reaching for Rittenhouse’s gun. Rittenhouse fired one round that hit Huber in the chest and killed him.

Rittenhouse sat up and pointed his gun at Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, who had started to approach him. Grosskreutz took a step back and put his hands in the air, but then moved toward Rittenhouse, who fired a shot that hit Grosskreutz in the arm.

Missing information paints false picture

Trump’s comments completely overlook the fact that people started following him after he allegedly shot and killed someone. He also claimed protesters “violently attacked” Rittenhouse, but that is not fully supported by the videos, either.

To be clear “Missing information paints false picture” was a heading though it could also be a pretty good description of this entire fact check. I won’t go into endless detail since a lot of readers probably remember it but briefly Trump’s summary didn’t mention Rosenbaum but he wasn’t asked to summarize the entire incident. He was asked if he wanted to denounce the “vigilante.” Trump suggested that it wasn’t clear Rittenhouse was a vigilante, maybe he was acting in self defense.

Ultimately of course that’s what the jury found to be the case. Rittenhouse only fired at people who threatened him. That included Rosenbaum who reached for his gun. Huber who hit him with a skateboard and reached for his gun and Grosskreutz who pointed a gun at him. You’ll notice there’s no mention of the gun in the fact-check.

Politifact is also clearly wrong about whether Rittenhouse was violently attacked. In fact, video shows he was hit in the back of the head, kicked after he fell down, then hit with a skateboard and then had a gun pointed at him.

Politifact eventually correct the story to some degree adding a couple of paragraphs:

In this fact-check, we are not examining the question of whether Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, as his attorney claims. We are examining whether Trump is providing an accurate description of what happened by focusing on only a portion of the events of that night…

Rittenhouse sat up and pointed his gun at Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, who had started to approach him. Grosskreutz took a step back and put his hands in the air, but then moved toward Rittenhouse, who fired a shot that hit Grosskreutz in the arm.

Grosskreutz had a handgun. It is unclear whether Grosskreutz was pointing the gun at Rittenhouse, or if Rittenhouse saw that Grosskreutz had a gun.

It’s better but still not very good. Now imagine that Politifact had the power to “suppress misinformation” about this story on social media. How would that have gone? Obviously, it would have been…misinformation.

And that’s exactly why Bill Adair doesn’t strike me as having thought this through very carefully. If you can’t understand that the line between facts and misinformation is often fuzzy, sometimes for months or years after an event that captures national attention, then you shouldn’t be in the news business. This is why free speech is important. Sometimes “the facts” are wrong and we need for people to be able to point that out.

Update: I’d forgotten about this. Drew Holden did a long thread on how bad the coverage of this was.

Even Joe Biden got in on the action.

The last thing we need is suppression of people trying to tell these folks they are wrong.

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