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Commentary

Fatal Flaw in Facebook's Fact-Check System Surfaces, Now Taking Either Side on Issue Could Seemingly Put You in the Crosshairs

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What happens when fact-checkers for a social media platform arrive at different conclusions?

Recent arguments about the legality of COVID-19 vaccine mandates pose that question with Facebook’s fact-checking process, proving what we’ve known all along: The system is flawed.

Two of the company’s favored fact-checking resources appear to disagree on the subject of mandated vaccinations, with PolitiFact asserting that “it’s not illegal for a college or employer to require a COVID vaccine” and FactCheck.org painting a different picture.

In brief, PolitiFact critiques a viral Facebook post that reads, “It’s illegal for a college, public school or employer to ‘mandate’ the vaccine because it was authorized for emergency use.”

“There are no legal mechanisms in place that would prevent any institution, whether an employer or school, from mandating COVID-19 shots, though exemptions can be made for those with certain disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs, as provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” PolitiFact asserted, countering the post’s claim.

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There is some truth to PolitiFact’s claim.

Colleges often ask for vaccination records prior to enrollment, the World Health Organization requires select vaccinations for travelers and certain employers may ask employees to prove their vaccination status.

So, how does FactCheck.org’s stance differ on the issue?

Both fact-checking organizations agree that various institutions may require vaccinations for students and/or employees, but they disagree on the depth of that assertion.

Do you think Facebook's fact-checking system is flawed?

“Can employers, colleges and universities require COVID-19 vaccinations?” FactCheck.org said. “Generally, they may require immunizations. But there is some uncertainty about the legality of mandating vaccines authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

Many people fail to realize a major factor in the case of the coronavirus shots: The three authorized vaccines have not had “standard full licensure, which is called a biologics license application, or BLA,” the fact-checker said.

COVID vaccinations have instead received emergency use authorization, and only Pfizer and BioNTech motioned to complete the BLA authorization on their jointly produced vaccine earlier this month, it said.

FactCheck.org noted there is uncertainty surrounding mandates for vaccines that are only authorized for emergency use, saying that “to some legal observers, the current authorization status of the vaccines means they cannot yet be required by employers and others.”

This disagreement between two of the major fact-checkers leads us to wonder what happens if we publicly take either stance on the issue.

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Will our social media accounts be flagged for false information regardless of our opinion (as in the instance of the Facebook post that PolitiFact critiqued)?

We know Big Tech attempts to shape our reality according to select narratives that boost certain ideologies, so it will be interesting to see where this issue will go — both on social media and in the legal realm.

We can say one thing for sure: This disagreement proves that different conclusions can be reached about a set of facts and Big Tech’s system of fact-checking doesn’t allow for much leeway.

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Taylor Penley is a government relations intern and student studying English, rhetoric and global studies. She plans to graduate in May 2021 and begin a master of arts program in political science this fall.
Taylor Penley is a government relations intern and student studying English, rhetoric and global studies. She plans to graduate in May 2021 and begin a master of arts program in political science this fall.




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