Full Fact – a ‘fact-checking’ website funded by Google, Facebook and George Soros – has been lobbying MPs to include “health misinformation” in the Online Safety Bill. This would force websites to remove “harmful” “misinformation” relating to health – including off-narrative information about COVID-19, lockdowns, masks and vaccines – or face crippling fines.
Last week Full Fact – which received 70% of its 2019 declared funding from Big Tech companies – sent an email to its subscribers urging them to write to their MP and ask him or her to address the “gap” left by the Government’s rejection of the Labour and SNP amendment that would have added “health misinformation” to the online ‘harms’ prohibited by the Bill. Full Fact’s Policy and Parliamentary Relations Manager Alison Trew wrote:
Two years on from the outbreak of a global pandemic, it should be obvious that false or misleading claims about our health should be included in the types of online content addressed by the Bill.
A few weeks ago Full Fact’s Chief Executive, Will Moy, warned MPs that as it stands, the Online Safety Bill fails to meet the Government’s aim to make the U.K. the safest place in the world to be online.
Our fact checkers have seen first hand how COVID-19 misinformation has undermined public health, conspiracy theories have led to offline attacks, and disinformation – including on the war in Ukraine – has spread unchecked.
Digital minister Chris Philp told MPs this week that the Government agreed with the intention behind the amendment to tackle harmful health misinformation. And yet, disappointingly, the Government voted against the proposed changes.
This leaves a huge, and dangerous, gap in the Online Safety Bill. But there is still time for Parliament to close it.
Here’s the email in full.
Full Fact, which describes itself as “the U.K.’s independent fact checking charity”, is, according to some critics, a politically one-sided organisation with a history of partisan interventions in political debates. Government Minister Dominic Raab once said of it: “Who said Final [sic] Fact is the final arbiter of what the public get to see as the truth? There’s no God-given right, set in law. It doesn’t sound to me like they like the competition.”
However, various organisations including Google and Facebook, use Full Fact to inform them as to what ‘misinformation’ should be removed from their platforms. Worse, there’s a strong possibility that supplementary legislation accompanying the Online Safety Bill will instruct the big social media platforms to restrict or remove ‘misinformation’, forcing YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to remove any content designated as such by sites like Full Fact, or face swingeing fines from Ofcom (up to 10% of a social media company’s annual global turnover). Ofcom said last year that its “list of claims that could be considered false or misleading is provided to us by Full Fact”. It seems inappropriate, to put it mildly, that such a close relationship should exist between a state agency tasked with regulating big social media companies and a company that receives the lion’s share of its income from those very same companies.
Full Fact claims to be an “independent and impartial charity with a cross-party board”. But an investigation by David Scullion for the Critic found cast doubt on this claim.
The organisation claims to have a board of trustees with “members from the three main UK-wide political parties”. There is a Labour Peer (Baroness Janet Royall), a Lib-Dem peer, (Lord John Sharkey) but their former Conservative Party member, Lord Richard Inglewood, no longer sits as a Tory. When I asked Full Fact who their Conservative member was they pointed out that one of their trustees donates to the Conservative Party and that they have “representatives of different political parties” on their board. This is different wording which allows for the fact that they don’t, or aren’t sure whether they have a Conservative Party member amongst them. I pointed out that a donor was different to a member, but I did not receive a reply and the text on their website was not corrected.
Scullion notes that the departing editor was an ex-Mirror and Buzzfeed reporter, and concludes: “Full Fact is a charity with a small output of research compared to its size, funded primarily by big-tech and staffed to a large extent by former public sector workers or ex-reporters from left-wing media.”
Incidentally, Baroness Royall is the President of Somerville College which introduced mandatory unconscious bias training at the beginning of 2021. Not only were all students expected to take the course, but it was also mandatory for them to score 100% in the end-of-course assessment, which included such questions as: “Acknowledging your personal feelings about particular groups or individuals is a useful starting point in overcoming unconscious bias.” Unless students answered “yes” to this question – an extremely contentious claim for which there is little robust research evidence – they would not score the “required” 100%. It was only after the Free Speech Union wrote to Lady Royall, pointing out that this requirement was almost certainly unlawful, that it was dropped.
Full Fact misleadingly claims no one has to listen to it: “We don’t ask people to take our word for any conclusion we make. We provide links to all sources so that readers can check what we’ve said for themselves.”
But when major internet sites and broadcasting regulators are relying on it to tell them what content to restrict or remove, and when it has a “Head of Advocacy” and a “Policy and Parliamentary Relations Manager”, its claims to merely be providing an advisory service look pretty threadbare.
Full Fact often gets things wrong. In February 2020 it joined in the now discredited effort to pour cold water on the lab leak theory, stating: “There’s no evidence that the 2019 coronavirus originated in a Chinese Government laboratory”, despite many scientists at the time suspecting, based on the evidence, that was the case. Last year the site claimed the Daily Sceptic was being misleading in reporting Government data showing infection rates higher in the vaccinated than the unvaccinated. It wrote:
This data had already caused widespread confusion, because it seemed to show for the month in question (August 9th to September 5th) that people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s were more likely to test positive for Covid if they had been vaccinated than if they hadn’t. In particular, a chart displaying the data seemed to give this impression.
Despite our pointing out to Full Fact that the Government data and chart didn’t “seem” to show this but plainly did show it, and this was not a result of “confusion” or a mistaken “impression” on anyone’s part and the only party guilty of ‘misinformation’ was Full Fact in attempting to muddy the waters about this, no correction was forthcoming.
Websites and other media checking one another’s facts is of course a worthwhile activity – and if anyone points out a genuine mistake in any of our articles we correct them. That’s one reason free speech is so important – it allows people to correct one another by drawing attention to new or overlooked evidence. But using politically one-sided fact-checking sites as a basis for censorship, as many websites and Government regulators are now in the habit of doing, is a fast-track to an authoritarian society where only officially approved speech and Government-endorsed ‘facts’ are allowed. It’s no surprise that Full Fact wants to use the Online Safety Bill to force websites to conform with the pronouncements of sites like itself. But that’s no reason for a Government that claims to care about freedom of speech to go along with it.
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