Facebook on Wednesday removed a fact-check conducted by doctors of an anti-abortion activist's video, which falsely claimed abortion was never necessary to save women's lives, after four Republican senators complained.
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Kevin Cramer, and Mike Braun sent a letter to Facebook on Wednesday, accusing the company of censorship and bias against conservatives. At issue were two videos published by anti-abortion group Live Action and its founder, Lila Rose, which were rated as inaccurate by an independent fact-checking group.
The fact-check, conducted by three doctors working with Health Feedback, was published on Aug. 30, and a link appeared next to the videos on Facebook, notifying viewers of the inaccurate information. More than 2,000 people who follow the Live Action page received a notification that the content had been rated as false, according to the group, which also said it was notified that its page had been categorized as "false news."
"Your Page has reduced distribution and other restrictions because of repeated sharing of false news. People will also be able to see if a Page has a history of sharing false news," Facebook told the group, according to a screenshot it published on its website.
Though Rose said abortion is never medically necessary, the fact-check pointed out several medical conditions including pre-eclampsia, HELLP syndrome, and placenta previa can make abortion necessary to save a mother's life. Rose has said in these scenarios, a doctor could instead deliver a baby early. But that's only possible when a fetus has developed enough to survive outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks, the fact-check said. The doctors also pointed to the case of Savita Halappanavar, a woman in Ireland who died after being denied an abortion.
Live Action and the Republican senators argued that the fact-check could not be fair because two of the people involved had ties to pro-choice organizations. Dr. Daniel Grossman is an obstetrics and gynecology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and is on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America foundation. Dr. Robyn Schickler is a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, a group that works to "improve access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, especially to meet the health care needs of economically disadvantaged patients."
Rose disparaged them as abortionists and liars.
"Facebook is aggressively & publicly siding w/ the abortion lobby & actively shutting down pro-life educational content," she tweeted.
And the senators said "no reasonable person would describe Grossman or Schickler as neutral or objective when it comes to the issue of abortion" in their letter. The senators added that fact-checkers used by Facebook commit to a code of principles that prohibits them from advocating or taking policy positions on issues they fact-check.
That code of conduct was created by the International Fact-Checking Network, which certified Health Feedback's parent, Science Feedback. The non-profit organization crowdsources fact-checks from scientists with relevant experience, which are then reviewed by a staff editor. The IFCN code of principles covers the organizations that sign on to its network, which include the Associated Press and FactCheck.org, and principles include nonpartisanship, transparency, and fairness.
"We have been in touch with the IFCN which has opened an investigation to determine whether the fact checkers who rated this content did so by following procedures designed to ensure impartiality," a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in a statement. "While the IFCN investigates, we are removing the relevant fact checks and have communicated this to the members of the US Senate who brought this specific concern to our attention.”
In its own detailed statement, the fact-checking network outlined what would happen next. The group is sending questions and asking for documents on what happened to the fact-checkers' editor and expects to receive a response in a week. IFCN staff and its advisory board will review the materials and determine if anything violated the code of principles — which could result in a correction or a suspension.
"This procedure has been applied before and is fully transparent," IFCN director Baybars Orsek said in the statement. "We will continue to update the public on our progress."