Last Thursday, Sky News reported that an assessor for the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network—a network of fact-checking outlets who have signed on to and demonstrated compliance with a code of principles—was “unashamedly politically biased.” Sky News reported that the assessor, Dr. Margot Susca, has declared herself a member of “Team Hilary” and made other similarly partisan comments on social media and in interviews. This reporting was later picked up by Mark Levin and The Post Millennial.
(It should be noted that The Dispatch Fact Check is among the outlets that Susca reviewed in her role as an assessor. The applications Susca recommended, along with her comments on each one, can be seen on the IFCN website.)
Sky News later corrected the article to note that, in fact, Susca is not in charge of appointing fact checkers, with a note saying: “This article has been amended to reflect the fact that grant of a licence is made by the IFCN Board following assessment and recommendations from external assessors such as Ms Susca.” The language throughout the article was updated accordingly, with the article now reading that Susca “approves and recommends organisations to become Facebook fact-checkers.” The article, however, still provides scant details on how fact-checkers are approved, and the uncorrected video still remains on Sky News’ website. No correction has been issued by a number of other outlets that picked up the story, with conservative commentator Mark Levin running a segment on his Blaze TV show with the outdated information after Sky News issued its correction.
Sky News initially reported that Susca “is the supposedly independent expert in charge of who can become a Facebook fact-checker.” Susca is not an employee of Facebook, but rather works as an assessor for the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network. While Facebook partners with IFCN signatories, being accepted into IFCN is only part of the process for an outlet to become a third-party fact-checking partner with Facebook.
After being recommended by assessors like Susca, the application then goes to the IFCN advisory board, which is composed of 15 members, 11 of whom come from IFCN signatory organizations. The other four are independent board members. The four current independent members are Neil Brown, the president of the Poynter Institute; Bill Adair, founder of PolitiFact and co-founder of the IFCN; EunRyung Chong, director of a non-profit fact-checking center similar to the IFCN in South Korea; and Peter Cunliffe-Jones, founder of one of the leading fact-checking platforms in Africa.
The board reviews applications recommended by assessors, then votes on whether the organization in question meets the criteria to become an IFCN signatory. Six votes in favor are required for approval.
Such is the process to become an IFCN signatory—further applications are required to become a third-party partner with Facebook. The Sky News article and accompanying video claim that Susca “was responsible for issuing 19 recommendations for organisations to become fact-checkers.” This is technically correct, though misleading without the further context that the IFCN requires signatories to reapply each year. Susca recommended 13 different outlets for approval, with her recommending for The Conversation Australia twice, the Associated Press three times, Lead Stories three times, and The Journal.ie twice. Nearly half of the outlets she recommended are not Facebook third-party fact-checking partners, with MediaWise, the Washington Post, Snopes, The Conversation Australia, Nieuwscheckers, and NU.nl not appearing on Facebook’s list of partners. The seven who are Facebook fact-checking partners represent only a fraction of the more than 50 fact-checkers working with Facebook.
Susca and other assessors still play a key role in determining which outlets become IFCN signatories. However, given the role of the IFCN advisory board, it’s inaccurate to claim, as Sky News did and Mark Levin still does, that she is the “independent expert in charge of who becomes a fact checker.”
If you have a claim you would like to see us fact check, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to suggest a correction to this piece or any other Dispatch article, please email email@example.com.