BMJ, one of the best medical journals in the world, denounces the censorship of Facebook

The BMJ magazine, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical journals, is taking on Facebook and its fact-checking companies (fact-checking) after one of his investigations was wrongly labeled as “devoid of context” and censored on the world’s largest social network.

Published on November 2, the investigation reported bad clinical trial research practices in Ventavia,a contract research company that helps carry out the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine main trial. But readers soon began reporting problems trying to share the article and were directed to a “fact check” by a company hired by Facebook called Lead Stories.

The BMJ investigation reported poor clinical trial research practices associated with Pfizer’s covid-19 vaccine. The article brought record traffic to their website, they remember, and was widely shared on networks, but a week after its publication, Facebook began to deny access to the story with the following message:

Soon, BMJ readers began alerting the magazine about Facebook’s censorship of their content. The social network redirected readers to a “fact check” conducted by ‘Lead Stories’, one of the ten companies hired by Facebook in the United States, whose motto is “debunk fake news as it happens”. An analysis last year showed that Lead Stories was responsible for half of all Facebook fact checks.

‘Buying’ the Pfizer version

The ‘Lead Stories’ article said that none of the flaws identified by BMJ whistleblower Brook Jackson “disqualified” the data collected from Pfizer’s main vaccine trial. Citing a Pfizer spokesman, Facebook claimed that the drug company had reviewed Jackson’s concerns and taken “corrective and remedial action” where necessary. A Pfizer spokesman also assured that the company’s investigation “did not identify any issues or concerns that would invalidate the data or compromise the integrity of the study.”

Despite the fact that the ‘Lead Stories’ article did not identify any errors in the BMJ investigation, they emphasize from the magazine, it kept the title of its article in these terms: “Fact check: The British Medical Journal did NOT reveal negative and ignored reports of failures in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trials.”.

An opaque appeals process

For the past two months, The BMJ’s editorial team has been unsuccessfully navigating the opaque appeals process, and even today its investigation remains hidden from Facebook. In December, the BMJ wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook’s parent company Meta, asking the company to review the warning placed in the BMJ magazine investigation and to review the processes that led to the warning being added and to reconsider the company’s overall approach about verifying the facts.

BMJ information censored by Facebook |

After Meta refused to intervene, the BMJ now plans to appeal to Facebook Oversight Board, an independent panel that can decide whether Facebook should allow or remove specific content. This is the same panel that ratified the decision to ban the former US president, Donald Trump, post on Facebook and Instagram after the capture of the Capitol in Washington, DC, in which five people died.

BMJ magazine has also featured a complaint to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) which sets quality standards for fact-checking organizations and creates a verified list of companies that meet these standards, including ‘Lead Stories’

Despite not identifying anything false or inaccurate in The BMJ’s investigation, the magazine says, ‘Lead Stories’ has refused to remove his article. It has also questioned the credibility of both the author of the investigation and the former Ventavia employee on whose evidence it is based.

Who verifies the verifier?

In a report published on Wednesday in the medical journal, the head of journalism at the BMJ, Rebecca Coombes, and the research editor, Madlen Davies, they say that experience has highlighted serious concerns about “fact checking” by third-party providers on Facebook’s behalf, specifically the lack of accountability and oversight of their actions, and the resulting censorship of information.

For Gary Schwitzer, from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the processes by which Facebook decided what content to submit for fact-checking and the contractors’ systems for deciding which pieces they reviewed were not transparent or consistent enough.

In the opinion of Jillian York, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes civil liberties in the digital world, fact-checking is important and believes it’s far superior to the alternative, which is Facebook simply removing content, but “I’m still concerned the effect it can have on legitimate sources,” he says.

“Facebook is trying to control how people think under the guise of ‘fact checking'”

“We should all be very concerned that Facebook, a multi-billion dollar company, is effectively censoring fully verified journalism that raises legitimate concerns about conducting clinical trials,” he says. Kamran Abbasi, editor-in-chief of The BMJ.

“Facebook’s actions won’t stop The BMJ from doing the right thing, but the real question is: Why does Facebook act this way?“, Add. “What drives your worldview? Is it ideology? Are they commercial interests? Is it incompetence? Users should be concerned that despite presenting itself as a neutral social media platform.”

References: Facebook versus The BMJ: when fact checking goes wrong (The BMJ) | Covid-19: Researcher blows the whistle on data integrity issues in Pfizer’s vaccine trial (The BMJ)

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