TikTok has enlisted PolitiFact and Lead Stories in a supposed bid to combat misinformation ahead of the 2020 US elections, yet the clear political biases of these fact-checkers raises serious alarm over the influence that the Chinese social network could have on the November outcome.
Despite the Chinese social network’s attempts to give off a politically neutral image by banning political ads, employing partisan outlets to run the rule over what its 165 million US users will see ahead of the presidential election appears a starkly political move.
The company, which has come under fire in recent times for its ties to Beijing and concerns over user data being passed on to Chinese intelligence agencies, has called on PolitiFact and Lead Stories “to fact check potential misinformation related to the 2020 US election,” TikTok announced.
However, although the term ‘fact-checker’ suggests impartiality, closer examination of these organisations shows an evident Democratic bias and affiliations which should raise grave concerns of TikTok’s, and subsequently China’s, influence over the US election.
Lead Stories is a fact checking and debunking website launched in 2015, yet upon review of its team, it holds an overwhelmingly left-wing and anti-Trump bias.
Editor-in-chief Alan Duke worked as a CNN reporter and editor for 26 years, while senior editor Monte Plott was a news editor for CNN digital for just under eleven years.
More than half of its writing and fact-checking team are former CNN employees, which together with the aforementioned editors, brings its cumulative experience with the network beyond 100 years.
Lead Stories chairman and founder Perry Sanders is a known Democrat having donated $10,000 to political campaigns, including $3,700 to Hilary Clinton‘s 2016 presidential campaign and $4,000 to Barack Obama in 2008.
“Victoria Eavis, a writer for the site, has also donated via ActBlue, writer Alexis Tereszcuk donated twice to the Clinton campaign in 2016 totaling $500, $25 via ActBlue, and $250 to failed Democratic congressional candidate Nick Leibham,” the National Pulse reported.
“Writer Gita Smith appears to have donated 99 times amounting to $1,839.82 to Democratic campaigns. Smith also donated to Swing Left, a hard-left political group formed in reaction to the election of President Trump intent on “defeating Trump”,” it added.
One of the oldest and notorious fact-checking groups is Politifact, which is the master of cherry-picking and word-twisting in order to come to its favoured conclusion, which in most cases is that which supports America’s left wing.
Politifact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times, which openly endorsed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign, and although a striking display of its open political affiliations, is far from its only one.
A famous example of how Politifact’s outcomes differ based on the political leanings of those under scrutiny was demonstrated in its separate evaluations of identical statements made by Ron Paul (Libertarian) and Jim Webb (Democrat) where the former was ruled false while the latter was deemed ‘mostly true’.
Then there is the fact that some politicians are checked more than others, inexplicably. For example, before Republican Marco Rubio even announced running for presidency in 2008, he was checked more times (87) than Hillary Clinton was during her entire presidential run (83).
In a study examining statements made by 2012 presidential candidates, their surrogates, and campaign ads fact-checked from July 1 to September 11, PolitiFact rated Democratic claims as “mostly true” or “entirely true” about twice as often as Republican statements, finding 42 percent true ratings for Democrats against 20 percent for Republicans.
Conversely, claims by Republicans were rated as entirely false about twice as often as Democratic claims – 29 percent false ratings for GOP statements vs. 15 percent false ratings for Democrats.
While this could indicate that Republicans are more dishonest than Democrats, an in-depth study by The Federalist took a deeper look at Politifact’s bias to devastating effect. As the article reports:
“The 2016 election was particularly curious because PolitiFact rated Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine as two of the most honest people among the 20 politicians we included in the our data scrape (1.8 and 1.6, respectively) while Trump was rated as the most dishonest (3.2).
“Using averages alone, we already start to see some interesting patterns in the data. PolitiFact is much more likely to rate Republicans as their worst of the worst “Pants on Fire” rating, usually only reserved for when they feel a candidate is not only wrong, but aggressively and maliciously lying.
“All by himself, Trump has almost half of all the “Pants on Fire” ratings from the articles we scraped. Even outside of Trump, PolitiFact seems to assign this rating particularly unevenly. During the 2012 election season, PolitiFact assigned Mitt Romney 19 “Pants on Fire” ratings. For comparison, for every single Democrat combined from 2007-2016 the “Pants on Fire” rating was only assigned 25 times.”
Given that Politifact chooses which statements to fact check, the frequency of who it checks, and bends statements based on its own interpretations whereas for others statements are taken literally, it can’t be deemed impartial.
While the topic of meddling from a foreign country was the dominant post-2016 election story, there seems to be very little fuss or even care about the fact that Chinese social network, whose third biggest market is the US with 165 million downloads, is playing an active role in influencing public opinion ahead of a presidential election.