Why "Fact-Checkers" Need to Fact Right Off

Popzazzle | Thursday, 27 January 2022 |

"Fact-checkers" have managed to persuade us that we need to question everything we see on the internet, except for them. That slice of hypocritical dick-logic alone exposes the sham of "fact-checking", and tells us what these people really are."


Mars bars on a plain surface, renamed as Believe bars during 2006 World Cup period
Image by Bob Leggitt

Last August, when one of the internet's most eminent "fact-checkers" was outed as a liar, a sockpuppet and a thief, we, the discerning public, took one peep above our propaganda feeds, raised an eyebrow, and then promptly resumed linking to his site. Like "fact-checking" could still be worth something after the genre's top dude had admitted simply ripping off shit from news sites. Yes, news sites. As in "don't believe everything you read in the papers".

And that wasn't the first time Snopes CEO David Mikkelson had been accused of dishonesty. There's an ongoing legal battle in which he's been called a fraud by his own shareholders and accused of using company money to fund his own recreational activities. If you look at the story (the story as documented to the legal system, that is - not Snopes' own donation-grabbing spin on it), you find a bizarre ownership dispute in which the company is basically suing itself, whilst asking the public to pay the costs.

This gives us a timely clue as to what "fact-checking" is really about...

Money. The whole money. And nothing but the money.

"Fact-checking" doesn't just validate. It also INVALIDATES. And by nature of its funding model, the people it invalidates are minorities. You can even see it as a form of online bullying."

In this post I want to look at the damage "fact-checking" can do to society if we allow it to become the authority it wants to be.

TL; DR


The TL; DR is that "fact-checking" is not the independent adjudication system it purports to be. It has an incredibly poor track record over longer-term history, it does not reduce conspiracist thinking, and it presents very little resistance to the most powerful and dangerous stream of misdirection on the web: official propaganda. Indeed, far from breaking down propaganda, "fact-checking" endorses it, and increases its power by wrapping it up in yet more authority.

I'm going to enclose "fact-checking" in quotes during this piece - for obvious reasons - and the same will go for the word "misinformation" if I find a need to use it. The whole concept of "misinformation" being an absolute definition is a nonsense. "Misinformation" is a fluid category that changes through history, and time has shown us that the disputed facts of yesterday are the accepted facts of today. Or vice versa.

"Immunising online silos to legal action and then saying we need a bunch of bloggers in judge wigs to keep them in line is, if you will pardon the language, monumentally fucking stupid."

In order for society to debunk myths and cons, people have to be free to think for themselves and present their beliefs. "Fact-checking" - in which theories or statements are officially deemed right or wrong in God-like fashion - is a hindrance to that. Not a help. Obviously, if a statement is demonstrably false and it endagers or damages people, action should be taken, but that's what the law is for. Immunising online silos to legal action and then saying we need a bunch of bloggers in judge wigs to keep them in line is, if you will pardon the language, monumentally fucking stupid.

FACT-CHECKING THROUGH HISTORY


A perfect illustration of the fallibility of fact-checking can be found in historical parallels. Parallels like the fact-checking process within the British honours system.

The British honours system recognises people for their contribution to society, and awards them a special, royal seal of approval that renders them vastly more likely to be trusted. Nominations for an honour are submitted, then the nominees are checked by multiple government departments to ensure suitability. Great. A reliable fact-checking process built in. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, let's start by noting that the individuals honoured with these royal seals of approval have included convicted paedophile and child-molester Stuart Hall, convicted paedophile and child-molester Rolf Harris, convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, murderous Nazi dictator Benito Mussolini, murderous dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, murderous dictator Robert Mugabe... The list goes on and on - and these are only some of the famous names who were later exposed as unmitigated pieces of shit. The famous are only the tip of the iceberg.

"Imagine what it would be like to have been abused by that monster, and to tell someone about it, and have them respond "Nah, he's a great guy - the authorities said so". Imagine that."

Among the most exemplary pieces of shit, believe it or not, multiple honours were awarded to the same person. Jimmy Savile - one of the UK's most sickening abusers of power - was, at separate points in his lifetime, honoured with both an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) and a knighthood. After his death, a tidal wave of evidence sufaced to reveal him as a serial child-molester, abuser and rapist, who'd used his fame and royal validation both to coerce his victims and to silence a network of potential whistleblowers.

His catalogue of sex crime had been known, at least in part, to various professional bodies, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (his employer), the National Health Service (where he'd bought access to children through 'charity work'), the Police and the press. But the knowledge was covered up, either due to self-interest or the crushing weight of Savile's royal seal of trust - or both. During Savile's lifetime, the BBC even censored accusations made against him in recorded broadcasts, as well as censoring self-incriminating admissions made by him. Presumably for fear of embarrassing the Queen.

Savile is now such an affront to decency in the UK that his image is banned from television. But would the online fact-checkers have outed him as subhuman scum in time to prevent the despicable travesty of him receiving royal honours?

No. Because they can only check information they can access, and when the parties with the knowledge conspire on a cover-up, the key information remains inaccessible. Savile was checked by people with a lot more access to information than your typical online "fact-checker", and their conclusion - TWICE - was: "Thumbs up, great guy". On the second occasion, they didn't even process the incriminating facts that that were publicly accessible.

Consider what those government "fact-checkers" did to Savile's victims. What their official rubber-stamp of "great guy" did not only to people who had already been abused by him, but also to people who would be abused by him in the future. Imagine what it would be like to have been abused by that monster, and to tell someone about it, and have them respond "Nah, he's a great guy - the authorities said so". Imagine that.

And then imagine that rather than saying "Yes, we vouch for this man and he should definitely be trusted",  the authorities had instead said: "LET THIS MAN'S BEHAVIOUR SPEAK FOR ITSELF". See how that opens the door to further analysis, instead of actively invalidating and shutting down the claims of minorities, who in this case turned out to be victims of a horrific predator?

This is the problem. "Fact-checking" is not a court of law, and "fact-checkers" are not God. "Fact-checking" is massively fallible, and yet in an online community it can carry the weight of a court verdict. It can badge propaganda as truth. And most critically, it can officially invalidate minority claims, effectively oppressing those minorities.

"Fact-checkers" are PART of the propaganda mill - not a critical assessor of it. They're paid by the machine. They work for the machine. Their job is to rubber-stamp a green tick onto the machine."

BUT DOESN'T "FACT-CHECKING" REDUCE CONSPIRACIST VIEWS?


The idea that "fact-checking" can stem conspiracist thinking is predicated on the notion that people have a neutral bias and will change their ideology based on what a "fact-checker" says. This is absolutely not the case.

People form beliefs and ideological allegiances not because they lack access to information, but because it is psychologically convenient for them to hold those beliefs. Your beliefs explain your life. Decant your failings and make them other people's responsibility. That's just how human nature works.

So it doesn't matter if an independent party "checks the facts". They still, ultimately, have to get people to believe something it's not in their interests to believe. And that is not gonna happen.

Split a commune into a rich side and a poor side - as the UK Big Brother series did in 2002 - and you see an instant encapsulation of human perspective. Previously good friends, the two groups become immediate enemies, blaming each other for issues they encounter as a result of the governing system. The poor see the rich as selfish and uncaring; the rich see the poor as relentless, annoying moaners - even though those perceptions were not in any way apparent before the divide was established.

It's one of my favourite experiments, because the effect is so quick, and it proves beyond all doubt just how easy it is for authorities to turn human beings against each other. But it also shows how points of view are irrevocably tied to personal circumstance. And this means "fact-checking" will never satisfy both sides in an ideological dispute. A "fact-checker's" decision will not result in agreement. An anti-vaxxer is not going to turn into a vax advocate because a "fact-checker" said all vaccines are wonderfully safe and effective.

Seriously. Find me one instance of a Twitter argument in which one side asks for a citation, is given the citation, and then accepts that their opposition's statement is correct. It never, ever happens. People will reject anything that doesn't fit their agenda.

Which raises the question: who is "fact-checking" even for? It's of no use to the yay-sayers, because they already believed they were right. And it's of no use to the nay-sayers, because they're gonna continue to advocate whatever best supports their agenda.

So the disturbing truth is that, apart from (obviously) benefitting the "fact-checkers" themselves, "fact-checking" is actually a service for the controlling regime. It purports to fight propaganda, but in truth it is propaganda. "Fact-checkers" have to be paid, and they will rubber-stamp anything their funders want them to rubber-stamp, because that's how funding works. No one will pay someone to do something they don't like, and you can fact-check that into the ground. So who are the funders of "fact-checking"?...

"Many times over, we should have learned the dangers of turning a basic piece of fallible research into an official verdict, but the concept keeps coming back dressed in new clothes, and we're suckered by it every time."

WHO DO FACT-CHECKERS WORK FOR?


Precise info about funders is notoriously hard to establish, and online businesses employ plenty of tricky schemes to obfuscate their most embarrassing sources of incoming cash. Despite the supposed transparency of "fact-checkers", this obfuscation is abundantly evident in their declarations - some of which are hidden so well that you can't find them at all. Classic tricks that "fact-checkers" use in relation to funding declarations include:

  • Claiming in their marketing blurb that they "publicly declare" funders, while passive-aggressively failing to point to the actual declaration(s), and making them almost impossibly difficult to find.
  • Hiving off the less well-respected or interest-conflicting funders (Facebook, for example) into a separate category such as "partners" or "sponsors", so that they don't appear in the main funders list.
  • Setting a qualifying donation threshold for donors to be listed, and then ducking the threshold by taking donations from separate sub-divisions of the same business. For example, Google Inc may donate separately from Google News Lab, and indeed has been documented as doing so. Google has so many separate corporate divisions that using this scheme it could donate £millions without ever rising above a £50,000 threshold. It's a system that can keep even the biggest donors invisible.
  • Receiving donations via a proxy. Another hallmark of Google funding. For example, funding from Google may be forwarded via Tides Foundation, which technically allows Tides Foundation to be listed as the funder. But this proxying system can be utilised to hide any donor, with any level of bias.

So let them play their games, but ultimately, the big picture is that "fact-checkers" are being funded by ethically-opinionated busy-bodies, Big Tech, and the media - all of whom we already know are biased. And it would be insane to imagine that amid that raft of funding, there were no ties to parties with an even greater vested interest in corrupting the information-flow. We know, indeed, that there are such ties.

You don't bite the hand that feeds you. Which means that "fact-checkers" are part of the propaganda mill - not a critical assessor of it. They're paid by the machine. They work for the machine. Their job is to rubber-stamp a green tick onto the machine. And even though they don't convince people with opposing views that they're wrong, their rubber-stamp does still lend heightened legitimacy to the majority belief. Like the rubber-stamp of the British honours system lent heightened legitimacy to Savile. Savile's victims and those around them always knew what Savile was, but their voices were de-legitimised by official rubber-stamping.

"Fact-checking" doesn't just validate. It also invalidates. And by nature of its funding model, the people it invalidates are minorities. Even if a fact-checker is solely funded by the general public, it still answers to the majority. It still sides with the biggest or most powerful gang. You can even see it as a form of online bullying.

Many times over, we should have learned the dangers of turning a basic piece of fallible research into an official verdict, but the concept keeps coming back dressed in new clothes, and we're suckered by it every time.

Ultimately, there is an irony here that no intelligent mind should overlook. "Fact-checkers" have managed to persuade us that we need to question everything we see on the internet, except for them. That slice of hypocritical dick-logic alone exposes the sham of "fact-checking", and tells us what these people really are.
Bob Leggitt
Post author Bob Leggitt is a print-published writer and digital image creator, multi-instrumentalist, twice Guitarist of the Year finalist, web page designer and software developer.
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