Left-wing advocacy group Media Matters for America has been quietly working with social media giant Facebook to combat what the group describes as “propaganda” and “fake news,” internal documents reveal.
Media Matters told current and prospective donors at a retreat in Florida over the weekend that it has been in discussions with Facebook leadership about their policies on inaccurate and partisan news stories on the website that many liberals blame for political losses last year.
“We’ve been engaging with Facebook leadership behind the scenes to share our expertise and offer input on developing meaningful solutions,” the group said in a briefing book obtained by the Washington Free Beacon at the conference.
“Media Matters will serve as their partner,” the group said of its work with Facebook and other social media companies.
Conservatives have argued in the past that Facebook intentionally marginalizes right-leaning voices, a theory that could be fueled by the social media network’s ties to Media Matters, among the harshest critics of conservative figures and ideas.
Media Matters, a self-styled media watchdog, is retooling its mission to place greater emphasis on “fake news,” a loosely defined category of misinformation that has been invoked to attack everything from Russian propaganda efforts to political blogs deemed factually dubious.
In his speech to last weekend’s conference, Media Matters founder David Brock blamed “fake news,” among other maladies, for the November loss of his preferred presidential candidate, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The briefing book bills Media Matters as “the top watchdog against fake news and propaganda.” With donors’ support, the group said, it will ensure that “Internet and social media platforms, like Google and Facebook, … no longer uncritically and without consequence host and enrich fake news sites and propagandists.”
Among its strategies for doing so has been direct engagement with Facebook and other top social media and technology companies.
Media Matters launched a petition drive during the 2016 campaign to pressure Facebook into addressing the ostensible proliferation of “fake news” on its website. The group credits that campaign with the company’s public vow to address the problem.
“After Facebook responded to our campaign by acknowledging the problem of fake news and agreeing to do something about it, we began a dialogue,” the briefing book says. “It became clear from these conversations that Facebook needed our help in fully understanding the problem and identifying concrete solutions.”
Media Matters’ goal is to get Facebook to “adjust its model to stem the flow of damaging fake news on its platform’s pages.”
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on its interactions with Media Matters, but a source familiar with the company’s thinking stressed that it routinely speaks with groups from across the political spectrum.
Media Matters has also been trying to enlist Google in its fake news fight, though it is not clear whether it has engaged in the same level of behind-the-scenes collaboration with the search engine giant that it has with Facebook.
“After Google revised their terms of service in order to prohibit so-called fake news sites from using their advertising network, it was Media Matters that had the information necessary to identify 40 of the worst fake news sites to which this policy applied,” the briefing book states.
If Media Matters is successful, it adds, “Google will cut off these pages’ accompanying sites’ access to revenue by pulling their access to Google’s ad platform.”
Google did not respond to questions about its interactions with the group.
Both Google and Facebook have recently taken steps that appear to align with Media Matters’ stated goals.
Facebook announced on Wednesday that it would change the algorithm behind its popular “trending topics” section, which will now base popularity on the number of Facebook-designated publishers discussing a story, rather than the number of users discussing it.
Google also said on Wednesday that it has banned 200 publishers from its advertising network as part of its efforts to combat fake news sites. The company refused to say which sites had been targeted.