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BMJ Asks Facebook to Remove Fact-Checking Label

In an open letter to Facebook and its parent company Meta, editors at the BMJ ask Facebook to remove a fact-checking label applied to an investigative article it published on data integrity and regulatory oversight concerns at a contract research company.

That company, Ventavia, oversaw three of the 153 clinical trial sites for Pfizer-BioNTech's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. The BMJ article reported a regional director there noted and informed the company of issues like deviating from the protocol and possible unblinding of the study, and then filed a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration.

Fiona Godlee and Kamran Abbasi, editors of the BMJ, say in their letter that when readers tried to share the article to Facebook, they were unable to do so or their posts included a "Missing Context" label and were directed to a fact-check performed by Lead Stories, a Facebook contractor. In its review, Lead Stories says the BMJ article headline — "COVID-19: Researcher blows the whistle on data integrity issues in Pfizer's vaccine trial" — is misleading and that medical experts it spoke with said the issues, if true, wouldn't affect the trial results. It adds the regional director only worked there for two weeks and has since agreed with anti-vaccine activists on Twitter. In a follow-up article, Lead Stories says this is the sort of "Missing Context" that was needed.

Godlee and Abbasi argue, though, that Lead Stories did not uncover any inaccuracies in the article. They further say Lead Stories' own headline — "Fact Check: The British Medical Journal Did NOT Reveal Disqualifying And Ignored Reports Of Flaws In Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trials" — is "nonsensical" and take issue with a graphic at the site that says "Flaws Reviewed," as they say no flaws were identified.

They now ask Facebook to remove the fact-checking label and the link to Lead Stories to better enable sharing of its article.