Facebook has ditched Melbourne’s RMIT University as its fact checker following complaints about how it handled material on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
It comes after the FactLab labelled a post by Sky News Australia host Peta Credlin as ‘false information’, which led to accusations of bias by politicians and ABC’s Media Watch saying it had overstepped the mark.
On Tuesday, Facebook responded through its regional director of policy, Mia Garlick, to an inquiry sent by Senator James Paterson, into FactLab’s conduct.
‘We are suspending RMIT as a partner in our fact checking program, effective immediately,’ she said.
Facebook has ditched Melbourne’s RMIT University as its fact checker following complaints about how it handled material on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament by Sky News host Peta Credlin (pictured)
A Peta Credlin editorial posted by Sky News was blocked on Facebook with those wishing to see the video first sent to a ‘fact check’ by RMIT university
Credlin was defended by Paul Barry (pictured) the host of ABC’s Media Watch program
She also pointed out that FactLab’s lack of a current certification by the International Fact-Checking Network played a role in the decision.
‘A private company interfering with the free speech of Australians is cause for concern under any circumstances,’ Mr Paterson said.
‘But the decision of a foreign headquartered social media platform to interfere with legitimate public discourse during a referendum to change the Australian Constitution is particularly egregious.’
The post marked as false by FactLab contained Credlin’s claim that the Uluru Statement from the Heart is a 26-page document, not just a single page.
‘The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a one-page document, as confirmed by its authors,’ the fact check said.
‘Papers released under FOI contain the statement, but also include 25 pages of minutes of meetings held with Indigenous communities, which are not part of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.’
On Tuesday, Facebook responded through its regional director of policy, Mia Garlick, to an inquiry sent by Senator James Paterson (pictured) into FactLab’s conduct
Sky News reporter Jack Houghton accused the company of allowing RMIT to block journalism ‘despite the platform knowing it was a breach of the rules Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg established to distance himself from fact checking responsibilities’.
‘An audit of RMIT Voice fact checks showed the 17 Voice checks between May 3 and June 23 this year were all targeting anti-Voice opinions or views,’ he said.
Houghton claimed RMIT FactLab boss Russell Skelton was ‘unashamedly partisan on social media, and has published dozens of tweets criticising conservative viewpoints’.
READ MORE: Sky News feud over the Voice heats up
A feud between Sky News hosts Peta Credlin and Chris Kenny escalated as the pair accused each other of spreading ‘nonsense’ and ‘telling lies’.
Mr Skelton’s timeline on X, formerly known as Twitter, does include several posts supporting the Voice, including one on April 21 highlighting an ABC article where the Solicitor-General is quoted saying it would be an ‘enhancement’ to the Constitution.
On April 6, Mr Skelton posted an SBS article headlined Noel Pearson takes aim at Peter Dutton opposition to Labor’s Voice proposal.
On April 11, Mr Skelton reposted tweets by Labor MPs Kate Charney and Bridget Archer both praising Liberal MP Julian Leeser for resigning from the Opposition’s shadow cabinet because he supports the Voice.
Mr Skelton is married to high-profile presenter ABC Melbourne radio morning presenter Virginia Trioli, who was once in charge of the national broadcaster’s own fact checking operation.
ABC show Media Watch conceded Facebook may have overstepped the mark in its criticism of her claim that the document was longer than the commonly touted single page.
‘Given there is some point to what Credlin is saying we think a “disputed” label would be more appropriate,’ Media Watch host Paul Barry said.
However, Barry did not fully back Credlin’s claim that the Uluru Statement was 26 pages long rather than the one page containing 440 words.
Despite calling the claim ‘disputed’, Barry essentially agreed with the fact check.
‘The Uluru Statement is expressed on one page but there are many more pages of notes and background, which it must be said the Australian public are not voting on, where matters like a treaty and reparations are raised,’ he said.
The Uluru Statement’s full documentation, released under Freedom of Information (FOI) by prime ministerial advisory body, the National Indigenous Australians Agency, has 126 pages.
It records meetings leading up to the First Nations National Constitutional Convention in 2017, but the last section, labelled Document 14, sets out the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
It then continues with 25 pages describing historical and contemporary injustices to Indigenous people and sets out a ‘road map’ as to how these would be made right.
The section outlines the purpose of the Voice and other bodies which could be be established such as a potential ‘truth commission’.
It also calls for the establishment of a Makarrata (Treaty) Commission to oversee a national treaty to be made between the Voice to Parliament and parliament itself, with regional treaties between First Nation groups and governments to follow.
‘Any Voice to Parliament should be designed so that it could support and promote a treaty-making process,’ the full document states.
An example of tweets made by RMIT Fact Lab boss Russell Skelton supporting the Voice to Parliament as Sky News claimed he was critical of ‘conservative viewpoints’
Authors of the Uluru Statement, including Noel Pearson, Pat Anderson and Megan Davis, have rejected claims it consists of more than the single-page document.
This is despite Professor Davis saying on two previous occasions the full Statement was ‘lengthy … around 18 to 20 pages’.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will announce the date of the referendum – which is widely expected to be on October 14 – on Wednesday in Adelaide.
To pass the referendum needs a majority of Yes votes overall and also to be approved in a majority of states.