Today, Meta, formerly known as Facebook, announced a new online digital security and safety training course for journalists and human rights defenders. Supported by the Meta Journalism Project, the free program will be managed by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in partnership with the Border Center for Journalists and Bloggers (BCJB). Interestingly, BCBJ is funded by a grant from ICJF. The ICJF’s extensive donor list includes Pfizer, Microsoft, Google News Initiative, Politico, Scripps Howard Foundation, John S. and James L Knight Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Health Organization. 

Meta, which states the program is part of its commitment to the Meta Human Rights Defenders Fund and Journalist Safety Initiative, has worked closely with the WHO, UNICEF, and national ministries of health to “connect people with accurate information and help limit the spread of misinformation” throughout the current pandemic. Elaborating on its pursuit to fight the spread of misinformation, the Meta Journalism Project explains:

“To fight the spread of misinformation and provide people with more reliable information, Facebook partners with independent third-party fact-checkers that are certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). Since we do not believe that a private company like Facebook should be the arbiters of truth, we rely on fact-checkers to identify, review and rate potential misinformation across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Their work enables us to take action and reduce the spread of problematic content across our apps.”

Meta
ICFJ Donors listed in 2020 Annual Review

Are Meta’s Fact-Checkers “Independent” & “Non-Partisan?”

Still, as recently pointed out by TrialSite News and reported by UncoverDC, many of Facebook’s 100-plus “independent” and “non-partisan” fact-checkers have explicit partisan “glaring conflicts of interest with international conglomerate news companies, vaccine investors, and now Pfizer, which holds the top spot for COVID-19 vaccine doses in the U.S.” Repeatedly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the mega-platform’s algorithm detects related posts and videos with health claims and leads users straight to its delegated COVID-19 Information Center

In addition to taking its COVID-19 cue from UNICEF and the WHO, in the United States, Facebook shares “accurate information” directly from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Along with its CDC partnership, in March 2020, Facebook pledged its support for the CDC Foundation—the sole entity authorized by Congress to mobilize philanthropic partners and private sector resources to support the CDC. The social media giant promoted the foundation’s “Combat Coronavirus with the CDC Foundation” fundraiser. With the fundraising goal met, Facebook doubled every donation and achieved the organization’s $10 million match. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also supports the CDC Foundation, donating $370,035 in Feb. 2020 for “vaccine development.”

More on The Independent Center for Journalists (ICFJ)

Meta’s partnership with ICFJ raises many questions about unbiased journalism and transparency. With its connection to The Gates Foundation, there is “a notable conflict of interest since Gates’ foundation has donated millions of dollars to Moderna for the advancement of mRNA technology for HIV and COVID-19 vaccines, among others.” Additionally, according to TrialSite, Gates made windfall profits on his investment in Pfizer partner BioNTech. 

ICJF also has strong ties with the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication, which trains journalists for media outlets run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Partnered with Bloomberg News, the Dean’s welcome letter to new students begins by expressing core values, stating, “Firstly, we should be committed to a firm and correct political orientation. Our school has been actively exploring the theory and practices of Marxist Journalism, namely, to applying the Marxist theory in observing the world, selecting and handling news production.” 

The longest-running program at ICFJ is its Arthur F. Burns Fellowship. With U.S. Corporate sponsorship from Pfizer, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Goldman Sachs, The Wall Street Journal, and BASF. ICFJ’s financial relationship with Pfizer dates back to at least 2008, as the center partnered with the pharmaceutical giant on a “training workshop on journalistic coverage of health issues” across Latin America. A summary of the workshop noted in The National Pulse explains:

“The objective of the workshop is to generate greater awareness about the importance of coverage of health issues in the region and to remember how the media can become leading actors when it comes to informing and educating the public about health issues that directly affect your health and quality of life.”

With Facebook’s admission late last year that its “fact-checks” are simply third-party “opinions,” its relationship with those it relies on for “fact-checking” is even more relevant. With that in mind, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF) is also a financial backer for ICFJ. TrialSite reports that, according to the OSF’s website, Soros “has given away more than $32 billion of his personal fortune to fund their projects worldwide.” Non-partisan database Open Secrets reveals that in 2021 alone, Soros gave nearly $126.8 million exclusively to Democratic campaigns and organizations. 

Meta’s Conflicts of Interest are Piling Up

The Meta Journalism Project lists several national and international journalism organizations and media organizations as its partners, including Poynter, as reported by TrialSite. On its site, Poynter mentions a collaborative project called FactChat. It connects U.S fact-checkers with two major Spanish-language news broadcasters, Telemundo and Univision. These Spanish news networks translate and distribute fact-checking articles from Check Your Fact, FactCheck.org, Lead Stories, MediaWise, PolitiFact, The Dispatch, The Washington Post Fact Checker, Science Feedback, and USA Today. Expanding on the ever-growing conflicts of interest, TrialSite remarked:

It’s fair to assume that these findings are only a partial view of the conflicts-of-interest that are rampant between government health operations, private sectors, and even non-profits. These problematic relationships have eroded public trust in hospital systems, government health officials, political leaders, news media, Big Pharma, and Big Tech. 

In addition to fact-checking third parties, news media outlets directly receive advertising support from Big Pharma. Regulatory agencies like the FDA also depend on direct fees from Big Pharma, which account for approximately 45% of their budget

In healthcare, hospitals are advised only to utilize patented Big Pharma drugs for COVID-19 and are compromised by the U.S. government’s relief act that provides an extra 20% premium for COVID-19 Medicare Patients.

With the fact-checkers so closely aligned with the drug-makers and healthcare establishment, the question arises: who fact-checks the fact-checkers, and who watches the watchers?