Guest Opinion by Kip Hansen – 23 July 2020
There is yet another new threat to an important right that Americans and all freedom loving peoples hold dear – the right to express one’s opinions on important societal issues in open public forums. In the 1960s, I, and many others, fought this fight on university campuses all across America. This fight was called the Free Speech Movement.
Today, university campuses are the locus of a new, and sadly misguided movement, the Anti-Free Speech Movement. Some refer to it as “Cancel Culture”, which is ill-defined, but in essence, by whatever name, it is a movement spurred by the pernicious idea that one group of people should be able to dictate what other people are allowed to say, what opinions they are allowed to express, what they can write and the very words they are allowed to speak. Writers and speakers that do not fit into a very narrow window of what is deemed “acceptable” by the Twitter-mobs are shouted down, dis-invited, slandered, libeled, subjected to calls for dismissal from their employment and have their very lives threatened.
“Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.”
And, my personal favorite line:
“The paper of record is, more and more, the record of those living in a distant galaxy, one whose concerns are profoundly removed from the lives of most people.”
[Read whole resignation letter on Bari’s web site here. It is well worth the ten minutes required to do so. Frequent readers at WUWT will realize I have been saying much the same about The NY Times on these pages for years.]
The Free Speech Movement resulted in universities designating certain areas where anyone could come and speak, hand out pamphlets and fliers and express whatever opinions and political views they chose. Any opinion – any speech – any written material. It didn’t matter how offensive to some; how nutty, whacko or anti-American it was. They could say it, write it, distribute it. Most of these free-speeches and pamphlets were simply accepted in passing and trash-canned. But they were not forbidden and not mobbed out of existence.
Sadly, this is not the case today.
Today’s Public Forum, today’s Free Speech Zone, is the internet. Personal and organizational web sites, Facebook pages, Twitter-feeds. The beauty of the Internet was that one could say whatever one wanted, and as long as one didn’t violate certain laws (pornography, death threats, etc), one could publish his or her views and if other people chose to read them, they could freely do so.
You are reading one of these free-speech efforts at this very moment: Watts Up With That. There have been attempts to shut this site down, there have been personal threats against its founder and some of the authors here. There are ideological opponents who falsely label this site as mis- and dis-information and slander and libel those who write here. That opposition has a right to express their views – just as we do. They do not have a right to endeavor to enforce their views on others through attempts to shut this site down or direct traffic away from this site. Google has de-legitimatized WUWT in its search engine while legitimatizing slander sites. (Some of my previous pieces on Google here, here and here.]
Now, a new evil has arisen, on the largest public forum in the world, Facebook. Facebook’s attack on free speech is being labelled “fact-checking” — and a similar attack has been mirrored in many newspapers.
FACT-CHECKING or OPINION-CHECKING?
The “incident” occurred last August – the publishing of an Opinion piece in the Washington Examiner by Pat Michaels and Caleb Rossiter of the CO2 Coalition. The post was subsequently mirrored to the Coalition’s Facebook page.
The CO2 Coalition’s Facebook page copy was promptly labelled “false”. Here the story is unclear, and different media outlets report differently. One version says that a more enlightened Facebook employee (the press call him/her a “conservative” employee, as yet unidentified) removed the “false” label on the basis that the Washington Examiner piece was clearly an Opinion. Other news outlets state that that Facebook reacted to a protest from the CO2 Coalition, and removed the label. That story should have died then – it was a “tempest in a teapot” — but curiously, it has re-appeared this last week in several places (here , here and more surprisingly, as a letter from Elizabeth Warren and three other U.S. Senators to Mark Zuckerberg [link is a .pdf])
It appears to me that someone has re-issued this story to sympathetic media outlets with a copy to Elizabeth Warren’s office.
What really happened is obfuscated in the press, but if you dig deeply enough and read all the press coverage you discover that Facebook did not ask anyone to “fact-check” the article in question. A private climate advocacy group initiated the action on their own and used their position as an “approved” Facebook outside third-party fact-checking organization, to have the article (on a private organization’s Facebook page) labelled as false. To do this, they only had to make an entry into a Facebook database.
Who did this? Climate Feedback. They are not listed on Facebook list of approved fact-checkers (see this page, at the bottom, select to see list of United States fact-checkers) but they apparently are a sub-group of Science Feedback, which is listed.
One gets immediate “feedback” on their opinions on Climate from this image on the Home Page of the Science Feedback web site:
Facebook has a policy that Opinion articles are generally not be to fact-checked based on the obvious fact that
and on controversial topics, such as Climate Change, they run across a very wide range of viewpoints, from “because of CO2 pollution “We’re all Doomed and We’re all Gonna Die” (with various time frames from 5 years to 30 years) to the stand taken by Michaels, Rossiter (and Will Happer) at the CO2 Coalition that higher “carbon dioxide levels will help everyone, including future generations of our families.”
The Facebook Official Policy on Opinions and Fact-checking is this:
Opinion content is generally not eligible to be rated. This includes content that advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the interpretation of facts and data, and tells the public what the author or contributor thinks about an event or issue. Opinion pieces may include reported facts or quotes, but emphasize the author’s own thoughts, personal preferences and conclusions. This may also include editorials, endorsements, or content labeled “opinion” in the headline, authored by an identified opinion columnist, or shared from a website or Page with the main purpose of expressing the opinions or agendas of public figures, think tanks, NGOs, and businesses. However, content presented as opinion but based on underlying false information may still be eligible for a rating.”
Facebook believes that people have a right to express their opinions freely (and not have some busy-body, Twitter-mob or issue advocate or advocacy group independently label their opinion as false, mis-information, dis-information, mis-representation, etc). Someone, and I suspect the same individuals involved in Science/Climate Feedback, is again generating a lot of new noise about Facebook’s policy. This issue did not just teleport itself through time from last August to the climate desk of The NY Times, to ClimateWire, the website Heated, or the desk of Elizabeth Warren. Someone apparently has decided to use the ongoing efforts aimed at getting Facebook to censor or control content on other social and political issues [racism, Trump, vaccines, police] to attempt to get them to censor opinions on climate.
You call this a Fact-Check?
It is an interesting read to see the “annotations” – the details of the “fact”-check that led Climate Feedback to falsely label the CO2 Coalition piece “false” – Climate Feedback initiated the “fact-check” of the opinion piece on their own – remember, Facebook did not request any fact-checking of this article.
Go to this page:
The box to the right comes up when one clicks on the story headline. Clicking on other highlighted text reveals that the “fact-checkers” are not Fact-Checking, but rather are Opinion-checking. I encourage readers to view the page and click on each annotation and see the “fact-check” for that item. ALL are matters of opinion that depend on one’s overall view of the climate issue. One “fact-checker”, Stephen Po-Chedley, is happy to link to a couple of his own papers as proof positive that the Coalition is wrong on some point or other.
“Facebook has made it easier to mislead the public because it boosts inaccurate climate claims to an audience only interested in partisan narratives and unwilling to examine the actual science, said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University and a member of the team that fact-checked the original CO2 Coalition post. He said Facebook, as well as other social media companies, allows people to “live in these bubbles where they only hear the info that they want to.””
[NB: None of the annotations on the Washington Examiner article were posted by Andrew Dessler. Dessler is not listed as a Reviewer on the Climate Feedback web site nor at the Science Feedback site.]
Here’s the sequence of events:
- Pat Michaels and Caleb Rossiter publish an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Examiner on August 25, 2019, putting forward the opinions of their group, the CO2 Coalition, about Climate Change and CO2.
- The Climate Team, including those involved with the so-called Climate Feedback effort, and Andrew Dessler (who is not officially associated with the Science/Climate Feedback group), don’t like those opinions.
- They can’t pressure the Washington Examiner, apparently, so they go after the re-published article on the Coalition’s Facebook page, carry out their independent and unsolicited “fact-check”, and label the Opinion piece on Facebook as “Misleading, Flawed reasoning, Biased, Inaccurate and Cherry-picking”. Note that all of their objections are themselves opinions and their own understandings of complex data – albeit aligned with what is called “the climate consensus”
- In September 2019, about three weeks later, after a complaint from the Coalition, Facebook agrees that fact-checking opinions is a violation of its own policies and un-labels the article.
- Now, In late June 2020,someone, not willing to let this attack on Free Speech remain unsuccessful, having awaited ten months then begins to foment “outrage” by re-issuing the story to news outlets (and, it seems, to Elizabeth Warren in the U.S. Senate).
Those of you who don’t quite get this need to re-read Bari Weiss’s Resignation Letter linked far above. She says, of The NY Times, but it is true of almost all mass media outlets in the United States (and certainly the UK as well):
“Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”
We see this now at Google, Twitter, YouTube and other social media and internet-based platforms. Those who consider themselves to be the “enlightened few” – who believe that only they know the Truth and believe that “Truth = Orthodoxy, Truth = Consensus, Truth = The Will of the Mob” – are seizing the power to block any views contrary to their own.
This has been true in Climate Science for decades. However, it comes as a surprise to those who have lowered their eyes and looked away, glad they were in another field. Now that the Consensus Mob has turned its attention on historians, doctors, philosophers, psychologists, professors and jurists – we are seeing a few more voices crying out against this destructive tide. Those voices are, in turn, being viciously attacked for defending free speech – after all, “it doesn’t fit the approved Twitter narrative”.
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This is an Opinion Piece. If you disagree, please leave your contrary opinions in the comments.
Examples are so rife in everyday life that if each reader left a link to a local story that illustrates this problem, we would have a record-breaking number of comments.
On July 15 2020, Caleb Rossiter gave his version of this episode here.
I do not include strictly two-party politics examples in this essay. Those readers who wish to see how bad this problem is when it concerns two-party politics in the United States can view these pages, select any link, and determine for yourself if the media is fact-checking or opinion-checking. In my view, they are most often checking against their established editorial narratives, not facts. (Again, read Bari Weiss.)
AP News: https://apnews.com/APFactCheck
CNN Fact-Check Politics: https://www.cnn.com/specials/politics/fact-check-politics
NPR Fact-Checks Politics: https://www.npr.org/sections/politics-fact-check
MSN Fact-Check: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/factcheck
USA Today Fact-Check: https://www.usatoday.com/news/factcheck/
NY Times Fact-Checks: https://www.nytimes.com/spotlight/fact-checks
Note: I will not be responding to any comments that involve US Presidential politics.
This is a heavy problem – we all need to lift where we stand. Demand that your local news outlets practice real journalism – and that they don’t just parrot what the Twitter-mobs are going on about. Demand real unbiased coverage of issues.
And for heaven’s sake, if you feel tempted to “go along to get along” — Stop It! Just, Stop It!
[h/t Bob Newhart]
Read widely, think for yourself and think critically.
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