RMIT University’s FactLab has recently made significant changes to its website following a suspension from Facebook and Instagram’s fact-checking operation. Independent journalist Rukshan Fernando brought attention to the modifications and questioned the timing of these alterations. The changes come after undisclosed financial agreements between RMIT FactLab and Meta, the parent company of Facebook, were revealed during Avi Yemini’s defamation case.
These revelations have raised concerns about the transparency of a supposed “open fact check” institution. Upon examining the website’s “funding” section, Fernando discovered a statement disclosing that RMIT FactLab now openly accepts funding from Meta. Additionally, RMIT removed information linking FactLab to the ABC from its website, following further revelations that ABC’s affiliated fact-checking operation has expired fact-checking credentials.
Statements indicating that both RMIT FactLab and ABC’s fact-checking outfits worked “hand in hand” on fact checks were also removed in the website revision. Interestingly, RMIT FactLab had previously solicited public donations to combat disinformation but did not mention receiving grants from the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) on its website prior to the recent disclosures.
Further investigation by Fernando revealed that IFCN, responsible for fact-checker accreditation, is tied to the Poynter Institute. The IFCN’s funders include influential organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network, and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. This leads to questions about the influence exerted on RMIT’s fact-checks, especially during significant events like the pandemic.
The modifications made by RMIT FactLab suggest a bid for re-accreditation by IFCN, bringing the integrity and independence of such institutions into question. RMIT also removed certain sections from their website, contradicting their previous claims of not fact-checking journalists or future events.
Overall, these developments highlight the need for transparency and independence in fact-checking institutions. The public relies on these organizations to provide accurate information, and any potential biases or conflicts of interest must be addressed and communicated openly.