My facebook newsfeed is flooded daily with postings from both sides of the political fence. I rarely respond to any of them, though a recent post about Melania Trump’s alteration of the White House Rose Garden caught my eye. The post claimed Mrs. Trump had uprooted cherry trees originally planted by Jackie Kennedy. Naturally, Mrs. Trump received plenty of criticism for this alleged transgression. It seemed highly unlikely to me that Mrs. Trump would remove beloved trees to make way for concrete walkways, and I posted a simple question in response, asking if the cherry trees had been replanted elsewhere on the property. My query received no answer; people were far too busy bashing President Trump’s wife to pay any attention to my suggestion.
This morning, I received a Facebook notice informing me the original post regarding the White House Rose Garden contained “false information checked by independent fact-checkers” from USA Today.
You’ll be happy to know these “independent fact checkers” corrected the misleading post. First of all, the ten trees in question are not cherry trees. They are crab apple trees, and they will be replanted elsewhere on the White House grounds. The idea to relocate the trees, which “had grown too large, shading out the plants below,” originated in the 1980s with Nancy Reagan; therefore, Melania Trump did not symbolically attack Democrats by maliciously ripping out Jackie Kennedy’s plantings. Melania merely fulfilled Mrs. Reagan’s plan to relocate the crab apple trees to enable the surrounding plants to grow freely in the sunshine.
Facebook reports it is now “committed to fighting the spread of false news on Facebook through the use of technology and human review as well as third-party fact-checkers “who are certified through the non-partisan Fact-checking Network to help identify and review false news.” Page admins on Facebook will be notified if they share stories rated false, and you will receive a notification if you try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been rated false by fact-checkers. (I received a notification though I only commented and did not share the Rose Garden post.)
While I applaud Facebook’s attempt to eradicate fake news, certain loopholes in their fact-checking policy impede their efforts. Shockingly and illogically, politicians are exempt from Facebook’s fact-checking policy and its rules against deception! Thus, political postings from either side are allowed on Facebook and shared freely without repercussions. For example, the Washington Post has reported five different fact-checking organizations in Facebook’s network unanimously rated President Trump’s persistent claims that Presidential candidate Joe Biden wants to defund police forces as “deceptive” and “false.” The Washington Post reported no Facebook fact-checker has taken issue with similar false claims in Biden campaign ads on Facebook, though they have pointed out the Democratic candidate has erroneously stated the number of American lives lost due to Covid-19.
It’s great to know Facebook is striking a blow for truth against fake news, but if their independent fact checkers target only tabloid worthy incidents like Mrs. Trump’s alleged cherry tree destruction, what good is the effort? There are far weightier issues circulating on Facebook than Mrs. Trump’s garden renovation. Facebook’s pursuit of truth is half-hearted at best, but we can all rest easily because the crab apple trees are alive and well.