Is Google’s Fact-Checker biased?

Wednesday's Example of Media Bias   —   Posted on January 17, 2018

Published at Accuracy in Media by Brian McNicoll, January 10, 2018:
Google has its new fact-check system up and running, but the websites it has chosen to scrutinize have something in common – almost all represent conservative viewpoints.

Not only that, but according to a story on the Daily Caller, the system also is “asserting [some of the website they fact check] made ‘claims’ they demonstrably never made.”

When people search for a media outlet such as the Daily Caller, Google gives details on the sidebar, including which topics the site typically covers, the Caller reported. It also has a section for “Reviewed Claims” – items that have been subject to fact challenges.

But the Reviewed Claims section appears almost exclusively on conservative sites. Fox, Gizmodo, ThinkProgress, Slate, Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Salon, Vice and Mother Jones have no such section. The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times not only do not have any Reviewed Claims section, and they have sections added to list all the awards they have won.

The only liberal site that has a Reviewed Claims section is Occupy Democrats.

The fact-checking is done by Snopes, PolitiFact and the Washington Post’s FactChecker, which have historically had a liberal bent.

The Daily Caller cited several examples where the new system already has run amok. After the Daily Caller reported that one of the members of Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election had donated to Hillary Clinton, the Post’s FactChecker awarded three Pinocchios [lies] – four is the maximum – to Daily Caller.

It evaluated the claim that Mueller is hiring people that “are all Hillary Clinton supporters” and found it “misleading, if not false.”

But the Caller had said no such thing. It merely reported that a member of the team had donated to Clinton.

“This method applies to several other checks,” the Daily Caller wrote. “Claims concocted or adulterated by someone outside The Daily Caller are attributed to The Daily Caller, in what appears to be a feature that only applies to conservative sites.”

…In still another case, Google uses a highly partisan climate site – climatefeedback .org, which has had many of its facts challenged – to declare a Daily Caller story about ocean acidification untrue.

Google also took Daily Caller to task for what clearly was a tongue-in-cheek article about a professor who claimed the solar eclipse in 2017 was naturally racist.

But Google includes in its Reviewed Claims section of the site a Snopes assessment that it was false the professor had made that claim, even though Vox itself had “pointed out the absurdity of the educator’s literary tirade on Mother Nature’s purported racial prejudice, and the damage it might have done to real arguments of apparent racism,” the Daily Caller wrote, adding:

“While Snopes got some flak for its choice, no one seems to have noticed the absurdity of the world’s go-to search engine providing fact-checks to purposefully irreverent content, rather than hard news stories.”

Google is trying to establish itself as an honest broker of what is true and what is not. We can debate whether it is a fit referee given a lawsuit now pending against it by a former employee who was fired for pointing out the organization’s leftist political bias.

If it wants to be taken seriously in this pursuit, it will need to scrutinize sites of all political persuasions with fact checkers who themselves are not committed to one side or the other. Better still: Use the old system; let people judge for themselves which media outlets convey news in an honest way.