The Internet Archive, commonly known as Archive.org and IA, is intended to act as a historical archive. In addition to digitally hosting more than 1.4 million books and other documents, Archive.org acts as a historical vault for the internet, preserving cached versions of websites that are no longer accessible to the public.1
Billing itself as a “nonprofit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites and more,”2 Archive.org’s Wayback machine contains records of more than 20 years of web history, including more than 486 billion web pages.
“We began in 1996,” their website states, “by archiving the internet itself, a medium that was just beginning to grow in use. Like newspapers, the content published on the web was ephemeral — but unlike newspapers, no one was saving it.”3 The whole purpose and value of Archive.org lies in its ability to preserve information that has been removed or deleted, whether intentionally or for other reasons.
With the use of IA, you can look at things that are no longer in existence via its valuable, really priceless, historical archive. Now, however, Archive.org has jumped on the fact-checking bandwagon, raising concerns that the integrity of its archive could be at risk.
Archive.org Adds ‘Fact-Checked’ Propaganda to Pages
Censorship continues to run rampant in the U.S. and elsewhere, particularly when it comes to information regarding public health. It was for this reason, along with their unscrupulous data mining efforts, that I left Facebook in 2019.
Not only is mainstream media being bought off by organizations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but social media and the internet are being attacked by an army of “fact-checkers.” October 30, 2020, Archive.org announced in a blog post:4
“Fact checking organizations and origin websites sometimes have information about pages archived in the Wayback Machine. The Internet Archive has started to surface some of these annotations for Wayback Machine users.
We are attempting to preserve our digital history but recognize the issues around providing access to false and misleading information coming from different sources. By providing convenient links to contextual information we hope that our patrons will better understand what they are reading in the Wayback Machine.”
The problem with labeling something as “false and misleading information” is the damage that occurs if said information is not actually false or misleading. When a banner pops up on social media, for instance, warning readers that the content is false, most people will not click through.
In fact, according to The Poynter Institute, one of Facebook’s fact-checking partners, which bills itself as a “global leader in journalism” that believes that a free press is essential,5 once a Facebook post is flagged as false by a fact-checker, its reach is decreased by an average of 80%.6
Now, archived content that presents an accurate record of history is being flagged by fact-checking organizations while in the historical vault. It’s like burning the library, in a sense, because valuable information may only get further buried out of the public’s reach. One example is an article that was published on Medium in April 2020, which was removed for violating the site’s Covid-19 Content Policy.7
The article, which discusses the need to establish a new treatment protocol for COVID-19 “so we stop treating patients for the wrong disease,” is archived on IA, but now has a yellow banner at the top, which reads:8
“This is an archived web page that Medium.com determined violated their Content Policy. Here is a link to it on the Live Web. In most instances, the archiving of a page is an automated process. The inclusion of a page in the Wayback Machine should not be seen as an endorsement of its content in any way.”
Archive.org states that the fact-checkers “provide context” for the archived web pages, but really the notices add another layer of potential bias to what should be an impartial historical archive, essentially just spreading the reach of censorship further.
Who’s Doing the Fact-Checking?
Ironically, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated publically that it’s not the job of social media to be an arbiter of truth,9 but it’s partnered with Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to be just that. All of Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers are certified by IFCN, and Archive.org has also partnered with a Poynter affiliate, Politifact, for fact-checking, among others.
The Poynter Institute states it has a mission “to fortify journalism’s role in a free society [by championing] freedom of expression, civil dialogue and compelling journalism,”10 but it actively enables the silencing of free speech, in part via its partnership with Google11 and its widespread fact-checking efforts.
In 2019, for instance, Poynter compiled a list12 of 515 “unreliable” websites, including 29 conservative media outlets, based on “fake news” databases created by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, Merrimack College, PolitiFact and Snopes, among others. Poynter also called on advertisers to blacklist the named sites, as advertising dollars are what keep them going.
After significant backlash,13 Poynter issued a retraction,14 but it appears the blacklisting is still occurring, through the joint efforts of IFCN and its partners, including Facebook. It’s important to understand that the vast majority of fact-checkers do not have a traditional journalism background, nor are a majority of fact-checking sites run by established media.
Increasingly, then, news — and the fact-checking that used to be part of a journalist’s job description — is being outsourced to individuals who aren’t journalists and aren’t trained to think and act like one.
Even under the best scenarios, Stephen J. Ceci, a professor of development psychology at Cornell University, writes in Scientific American:
“Research underscores that fact-checkers’ personal biases influence both their choice of which statements to analyze and their determination of accuracy … Journalists and fact-checkers are human beings subject to the same psychological biases as everyone else—and their analyses of what constitute ‘facts’ is affected by their own political and ideological values, resulting in what psychologists term selective perception.”15
Gates Foundation Funds Poynter Institute, Media
So-called “independent” fact-checkers are subject not only to their own inherent biases but also to those placed upon them by funders. The Poynter Institute, for instance, is among a number of journalistic organizations that have received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Writing in Columbia Journalism Review, Tim Schwab examined the recipients of nearly 20,000 Gates Foundation grants, finding more than $250 million had been given to major media companies, including BBC, NBC, Al Jazeera, ProPublica, National Journal, The Guardian and the Center for Investigative Reporting.16
Ironically, “The foundation even helped fund a 2016 report17 from the American Press Institute that was used to develop guidelines18 on how newsrooms can maintain editorial independence from philanthropic funders,” Schwab writes, adding, “Gates’s generosity appears to have helped foster an increasingly friendly media environment for the world’s most visible charity:”19
“When Gates gives money to newsrooms, it restricts how the money is used — often for topics, like global health and education, on which the foundation works — which can help elevate its agenda in the news media.
For example, in 2015 Gates gave $383,000 to the Poynter Institute, a widely-cited authority on journalism ethics … earmarking the funds ‘to improve the accuracy in worldwide media of claims related to global health and development.’ Poynter senior vice president Kelly McBride said Gates’s money was passed on to media fact-checking sites …”
Fast Company’s Alex Pasternack is among those who claim that Facebook’s fact-checking policies are also influenced by its own political and business agendas, citing “more than half a dozen instances in which Facebook managers have interfered with fact checks in ways that appear at odds with the program’s spirit of independence and nonpartisanship.” Still, Pasternack notes:20
“A post-2016 innovation, the labels aren’t placed by Facebook but by harried subcontractors, fact-checkers and journalists, and scientists who are fed a never-ending feed of potential misinformation.
They can flag extreme misinformation for total removal — think dangerous coronavirus hoaxes — but mostly they place ‘false’ or ‘partly false’ labels on content, which gray out posts with a warning message and a link to an article explaining the fact-checkers’ reasoning.
Fact-checks bring internal penalties too, like limits on content distribution or on a page’s ability to microtarget ads. In some cases, Facebook says repeat offenders can be deleted entirely.”
Facebook Fact-Checkers Sued
Children’s Health Defense (CHD), founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., sued Facebook, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg and three of its fact-checking partners — Science Feedback, Poynter Institute and PolitiFact21 — for censoring their truthful public health posts and fraudulently misrepresenting and defaming CHD.
On CHD’s Facebook page, the social media giant added a label stating, “This page posts about vaccines,” along with a link to the CDC for “reliable, up to date information.”22
They also deactivated the page’s donate button — stopping fundraising efforts — and prohibited CHD from buying online advertisements while adding a warning in gray overlay stating that their independent fact-checkers found false information, which, according to CHD, “has the intended effect of reducing both click-throughs to the underlying content and shares. The net effect is to drastically reduce by 95% the traffic to Children’s Health Defense website.”23
By deactivating CHD’s donate button and using deceptive forms of technology like shadow banning, which essentially renders posts invisible to the public without the user knowing, Facebook attempted to silence CHD’s criticism of government policies and pharmaceutical products. According to CHD:24
“In short, Facebook and the government colluded to silence CHD and its followers. Such tactics are fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment, which guarantees the American public the benefits to democracy from free flow of information in the marketplace of ideas.
It forbids the government from censoring private speech — particularly speech that criticizes government policies or officials.”
Taken together, the deceptive “fact checks,” misleading warning labels and disabling of the nonprofit’s donate button may violate the First and Fifth Amendments, the Lanham Act, which protects against misleading advertising and labeling,25 and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which seeks to eradicate organized crime.
“Those statutes protect CHD against online wire-fraud, false disparagement, and knowingly false statements,” CHD noted, adding, “CHD asks the Court to declare Facebook’s actions unconstitutional and fraudulent, and award injunctive relief and damages.”26
Fact-Checkers Rewriting History
With Archive.org’s announcement that they’re now allowing fact-checkers to essentially rewrite history by adding various warning labels to archived pages, even more power is being placed with fact-checking organizations that are spreading the falsity that they’re responsible for fact-checking everyone else and telling you what to think about what you read.
It’s one more step toward centralized control of the web, when maintaining a decentralized web is the only way to protect it. Activist Post added:27
“Implementing a fact-checking solution that is a centralized mechanism powered by journalists they could easily control is certainly the CIA’s … dream, as a CIA director was once quoted stating that once the public’s perception is confused about what is real and what is propaganda then their mission would be complete.
Now you might think the CIA owning journalists is conspiratorial, but it happened with MKultra’s Operation Mockingbird … The other issue that is less conspiratorial, and one that needs to be highly considered is, what if the human doing the fact-checking lacks the proper skills to dig up information online, as not everyone is … skilled … when it comes to finding documents and data.”
Efforts to shut down public discussions about health information are in full force. So what can you do? Knowledge truly is power, so look beyond fact-checkers’ labels, and the corporations behind them, in your search for truth.
“The most important thing about the story, and something that doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people, is that we have outsourced decisions like this to corporations,” Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, told Fast Company. “This is a truly terrible situation to be in.”28