Special Report

Misinformation and Checking the Fact-Checkers: Other Major Players

The Battle Against Misinformation and Checking the Fact-Checkers (full series)
Rise of the Fact-Checking | The Money Behind Fact-Checking
Other Major Players | Pushing Censorship | The Future of Fact-Checking

Other Major Players

Other major players currently operating include Lead Stories, which is among the most prolific fact-checkers policing content on Facebook. Its staff reveals the operation to be practically a CNN offshoot. About a quarter of Lead Stories’ staff has donated to Democrats, according to Federal Election Commission data, and zero staffers have donated to Republicans. Lead Stories chairman and founder Perry Sanders donated $3,700 to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the same to Obama’s 2008 campaign (among other donations to Democrats).

One writer, Gina Smith, donated 99 times to Democrat campaigns and was taken off of doing political stories after that was reported in a National Pulse exposé. Lead Stories editor-in-chief and co-founder Alan Duke insisted, “We have a rule that you cannot have donated to political candidates. We have a hard-and-fast rule and when we find out that that happens, we have to react to that.”[1] Yet no one else at the company who made political donations has been punished for it.

At least half of Lead Stories’ staff have been affiliated with CNN and have a combined one hundred years of experience there between them. Duke himself worked at CNN for nearly 30 years as a reporter and editor. Lead Stories’ senior editor, Monte Plott, was a news editor at CNN for over a decade.[2] The site’s other co-founder, Maarten Schenk, lives in Belgium, and the site’s former managing editor, Eric Ferkenhoff, implied that Donald Trump is a white nationalist on Twitter.[3]

Lead Stories disclosed in its application to join the International Fact-Checking Network that it offers its Trendolizer engine (software that flags internet activity as it starts to trend) on a commercial basis and that the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have both requested access and pay $350 a month for it.[4]

Another group, FactCheck.org, was created by the nonprofit Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003. Initially, it was mainly funded by the Annenberg Foundation, which had given it over $87 million from 2004 to 2016, but it now takes donations.[5]

Its co-founder Brooks Jackson said the site was born out of frustration that journalists had with the media’s supposedly unfair coverage of former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, something they were still frustrated with over a decade and a half later for some reason. Jackson has been a journalist for the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, and CNN. He was recruited to run FactCheck.org by Annenberg Public Policy Center director Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who previously served on the board of the Soros-funded Center for Public Integrity.

Seemingly everyone else in the liberal media has joined the fact-checking game too, including the Associated Press, Reuters, Huffington Post, and USA Today, among many others that have launched their own fact-checking arms.

Big Tech is getting in on the action too. Tech companies have not only relied on these fact-checkers who share their ideological proclivities for narrative enforcement, they actively seek it out.

Of the $8.1 million that the tech-industry workers donated to presidential candidates in 2016, 95 percent went to Hillary Clinton. In Silicon Valley specifically, it was 99 percent.[6] The proportions were similar for Biden in 2020, although Silicon Valley poured out far greater sums in hopes of preventing Donald Trump’s re-election.[7]

Over at Facebook, four days after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that his company would be working to combat fake news but urged caution about Facebook becoming “arbiters of truth ourselves.”[8]

Zuckerberg personally resisted calls for social media policing, calling it a “pretty crazy idea” that the results of the 2016 election were altered by misleading internet posts. But that didn’t last for long. Zuckerberg eventually backed down on facing an “internal insurgency,” where Facebook employees started a task force to examine the company’s role in pushing fake news and Zuckerberg’s apparent evasion of responsibility.[9]

The IFCN penned an open letter to Zuckerberg on November 16, 2016, making a sales pitch for their services while attempting to make it look like they were concerned about facts:

We believe that Facebook should start an open conversation on the principles that could underpin a more accurate news ecosystem on its news feed. The global fact-checking community is eager to take part in this conversation. Many of our organizations already provide training in fact-checking to media organizations, universities, and the general public. We would be glad to engage with you about how your editors could spot and debunk fake claims.[10]

The letter was signed by 20 fact-checking organizations.

The next month, Facebook announced that the IFCN would be their main partner as part of a new fact-checking initiative to clean up the platform.

The IFCN acts as the “high body” for the dozens of fact-checking organizations under its umbrella, which unite under a shared code of principles, and their mission “to bring together the growing community of fact-checkers around the world and advocates of factual information in the global fight against misinformation.” Among the most well-known organizations that are affiliated with the IFCN are the Associated Press fact-checker, FactCheck.org, The Dispatch fact-checker, the Washington Post fact-checker, and PolitiFact.[11]

According to the IFCN’s founding director Alexios Mantzarlis (who now works at Google),[12] “fact-checkers are no longer a fresh-faced journalistic reform movement; they are wrinkly arbiters of a take-no-prisoners war for the future of the internet.”[13]

The IFCN was launched in 2015 as a division of the Poynter Institute, PolitiFact’s parent. Poynter’s funding comes from Silicon Valley tech companies, leftist philanthropic organizations, and the U.S. government. IFCN’s initial funding came from the National Endowment for Democracy (backed by the U.S. State Department), the Omidyar Network, Google, Facebook, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations.

In early 2022, the Democratic National Committee released a nearly 5,000-word action plan for aggressively implementing censorship under the guise of “combating online misinformation.”[14] The committee recommended social media platforms promote what they determine to be “authoritative” news sources and positively referenced Facebook’s partnership with the IFCN, complaining only that it hasn’t scaled “to the size of the site’s misinformation problem.”

In the next installment, changes to Facebook’s algorithm overwhelmingly benefited left-wing outlets.


[1] National Pulse, “Facebook’s Fact Checker Says They Removed Staff After National Pulse Exposé,” July 20, 2021, https://thenationalpulse.com/archive-post/facebook-fact-checker-national-pulse-scalp/.

[2] Natalie Winters and Raheem Kassam, “Facebook’s Fact-Checker ‘Lead Stories’ Is Staffed by Exclusively Democrat Party Donors, CNN Staffers, and ‘Defeat Trump’ Activists,” National Pulse, June 18, 2020, https://thenationalpulse.com/archive-post/facebook-lead-stories-democrat-donors-cnn/.

[3] Eric Ferkenhoff, February 11, 2016, https://twitter.com/EricFerk/status/697741144965455872.

[4] International Fact-Checking Network, “Lead Stories,” https://www.ifcncodeofprinciples.poynter.org/application/public/lead-stories/CD36E717-3ACD-8CD1-3326-85E744D72DF2.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Peter J. Hasson, The Manipulators: Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Big Tech’s War on Conservatives (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2020), 15.

[7] Theodore Schleifer and Rani Molla, “Silicon Valley Is Spending Millions More for Joe Biden Than It Did for Hillary Clinton,” Vox, October 30, 2020, https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/10/30/21540616/silicon-valley-fundraising-donald-trump-joe-biden-analysis.

[8] Hasson, The Manipulators, 30.

[9] Lee Smith, “How Facebook Ate the News: Mark Zuckerberg, America’s Public Enemy No. 1.” Tablet, June 21, 2017, https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/zuckerberg-public-enemy-no-1.

[10] International Fact-Checking Network, “An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg from the World’s Fact-Checkers,” Poynter Institute, November 17, 2016, https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2016/an-open-letter-to-mark-zuckerberg-from-the-worlds-fact-checkers/.

[11] International Fact-Checking Network, “Verified Signatories of the IFCN Code of Principles,” https://www.ifcncodeofprinciples.poynter.org/signatories.

[12] LinkedIn, “Alexios Mantzarlis,” https://www.linkedin.com/in/mantzarlis/.

[13] Alexios Mantzarlis, “Fact-Checkers Are No Longer a Fresh-Faced Movement. They’re Fighting for the Future of the Internet,” Poynter Institute, June 20, 2018, https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2018/fact-checkers-are-no-longer-a-fresh-faced-movement-theyre-fighting-for-the-future-of-the-internet/.

[14] Democratic National Committee, “DNC Recommendations for Combating Online Misinformation: Comparative Social Media Policy Analysis,” https://democrats.org/who-we-are/what-we-do/disinfo/comparative-social-media-policy-analysis/.

Matt Palumbo

Matt Palumbo is the author of The Man Behind the Curtain: Inside the Secret Network of George Soros (2021), Dumb and Dumber: How Cuomo and de Blasio Ruined New York…
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