REPORT: Facebook Fact-Checker Redefines ‘Energy Independence’ to Silence Biden Critics

May 24th, 2022 11:49 AM

Facebook and Instagram censored conservatives for their American energy independence statements even though fact-checkers disagreed on essential facts underlying the censored posts.

Fact-checker Agence France-Presse (AFP) claimed the U.S. hadn’t been energy independent as part of an effort that censored the Media Research Center 27 times. Another approved fact-checker used the exact term “energy independence” that AFP employed to nit-pick the MRC. 

AFP censored 27 MRC posts combined on Facebook and Instagram between Feb. 28 and March 26. Those posts quoted high-profile figures, including former President Donald Trump, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and MRC President Brent Bozell.

Some of the posts promoted MRC’s mini-documentary “Killing Keystone.” Most of the posts had a caption pointing to Biden’s culpability in America losing its energy independence to become more reliant on foreign oil. 

Facebook and Instagram slapped a “Missing Context” label on the MRC posts. Facebook in particular claimed, “Independent fact-checkers say this information is missing context and could mislead people.” Facebook and Instagram linked out to two articles by the French-government-funded fact-checker AFP which twisted facts to protect Biden.

One fact-check in particular lambasted posts that criticized Biden for undermining U.S. energy independence. That fact-check claimed that American imports of foreign oil under Trump invalidated statements supporting the notion that the U.S. was energy-independent under Trump’s presidency.

But fellow Facebook fact-checker Lead Stories contradicted AFP, writing in a May 2021 fact-check: “In 2019, when Donald Trump was president, the U.S. did achieve energy independence, something that had not happened since 1957.” Apparently these aligned fact-checkers didn’t have their story straight. [Emphasis added.]

HIGHLIGHTS: 

  • 27 MRC Posts Censored: Meta slapped “Missing Context” labels on 27 MRC posts on Facebook and Instagram for criticizing Biden’s anti-American energy policies, and linked out to two AFP fact-checks.
  • Facebook Fact-Checker AFP Tried to Eliminate “Energy Independence” Nuance: Fact-checker Agence France-Press claimed accusations against Biden undermining U.S. “energy independence” were misleading because the U.S. still imported foreign oil during Trump's presidency.
  • AFP Shielded Biden from Responsibility for Rising Gas Prices: Another AFP fact-check defending Biden from responsibility for spiking gas prices was wielded against one MRC Facebook post.
  • Facebook Fact-Checkers Can’t Agree on What “Energy Independence” Means: AFP’s “energy independence” fact-check completely contradicted fellow fact-checker Lead Stories’ 2021 usage of the term: “In 2019, when Donald Trump was president, the U.S. did achieve energy independence, something that had not happened since 1957.”
  • MRC Is Not the Only Group Censored for Criticizing Biden on Energy: The MRC wasn’t the only target. The two AFP fact-checks also targeted a litany of other social media pages. Pages tagged with a “Missing Context” label for either alluding to American energy independence or blaming Biden for spiking gas prices included Independent Journal Review, Heritage Action, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Young Americans for Liberty and Secure America Now.
  • AFP Slaps Comment Section with Fact-Check: AFP went out of its way to target the Tea Party Patriots account for blaming Biden for high gas prices. And while Facebook did not give the Tea Party Patriots post a “Missing Context” label, AFP posted in a comment its Biden-protecting fact-check on gas prices in an attempt to undercut a narrative it disagreed with. AFP also linked out to another article by the liberal, publicly-funded National Public Radio attempting to defend Biden.
  • Other Groups Agree with the MRC’s Usage of “Energy Independence”: The MRC’s usage of “energy independence” was based on the U.S. exporting more energy than it imported under Trump’s administration. Other groups agreed with that nuance. The pro-free market Institute for Energy Research released an editorial on May 11, 2020, headlined: “The United States Was Energy Independent in 2019 for the First Time Since 1957.” The Investor’s Business Daily editorial board wrote a piece in 2018 headlined: “Trump Just Achieved What Every President Since Nixon Had Promised: Energy Independence.”

AFP Digital Verification Editor Rob Lever wrote both AFP fact-checks. He claimed that posts saying Biden undermined U.S. “energy independence” were “misleading” because the U.S. still “imports millions of barrels per day, and global market conditions will affect the country no matter how much crude it produces domestically.” One of Lever’s AFP fact-checks cited Columbia University senior research scholar Antoine Halff saying: “‘You can be net positive or net neutral in terms of exports of energy but that doesn’t mean being able to function efficiently in isolation.’" [Emphasis added.]

But Lever targeted a straw man. None of the censored MRC posts indicated that the U.S. is 100 percent disconnected from foreign energy sources. In fact, the term “energy independence” is nuanced, and even Lead Stories understood that.

Lead Stories addressed in a separate fact-check of a Facebook post on Feb. 17, 2021, “whether it's true that the United States was ‘energy independent’ in 2019 for the first time since 1957.” Lead Stories found: “On this question, the post is correct, although the definition and data have been argued.” Another liberal Meta fact-checker, PolitiFact, conceded in 2020 that “[o]ne definition of energy independence says it occurs when domestic production outpaces domestic consumption.” [Emphasis added.]

Other legacy outlets have used the nuanced definition of “energy independence” as well. The most glaring example of this came from none other than The Washington Post editorial board in 2021:

Republicans attacked [National Security Advisor Jake] Sullivan’s comments as evidence that Biden policies such as the curtailment of domestic oil and gas leases on federal land, and cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, were undermining hard-won U.S. energy independence. They have a point: Crude oil is a fungible commodity. It seems strange indeed to encourage drilling in Saudi Arabia and Russia — they call the shots in OPEC+ — while discouraging it in North America, [emphasis added].

There was widespread agreement in the media on this point.

ABC 4 News wrote on March 7, 2022: “Last year was neck and neck but technically the U.S. was energy independent since it exported more than it imported.” Forbes published a piece March 8, 2022, headlined: “Surprise! The U.S. Is Still Energy Independent.” Axios published a story Feb. 19, 2022, headlined: “The U.S. is now energy independent.” 

Even pro-Biden CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale, in an unironic Trump fact-check, conceded that the term “energy independence” has “various non-literal definitions.Dale even admitted that Trump achieved some definitions of the term, but tried to spin the nuanced versions to benefit Biden: “And the US did satisfy some of these definitions under Trump in 2020 — as it did again in the 11 months of 2021, mostly under Biden, for which we have complete data.”

The Institute for Energy Research released an editorial on May 11, 2020, in which it stated: 

U.S. energy production in 2019 was higher than U.S. energy consumption for the first time in 62 years. Thus, the U.S. attained the long-held goal of ‘energy independence’—which is not to say that we did not import or export energy, but that we produced more energy than we used [emphasis added].

The Investor’s Business Daily editorial board wrote a piece in 2018 headlined: “Trump Just Achieved What Every President Since Nixon Had Promised: Energy Independence.” IBD’s understanding of what had transpired in the energy sector in 2018 was parallely to what the IER stipulated: “Last week, the U.S. exported more oil than we imported, for the first time in 70-plus years.” 

Also, more than a year into Biden’s presidency, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected in February that the U.S. would become “a net importer of petroleum in 2022.” Oilprice.com defines a net petroleum importer as “a country that imports more crude oil and refined products than the crude and products it exports.” [Emphasis added.]

But this context didn’t matter. Lever railed against “[c]laims that Biden destroyed US energy independence.” Lever reasserted that one of the MRC’s posts and other assertions similar to the content of the post “misrepresent” the nature of the oil market because the U.S. still imports foreign oil. 

“The US became a ‘net annual petroleum exporter’ in 2020, according to official government data, which some commentators touted as energy independence,” he said. “But supply is not a one-sided metric; data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that American exports that year amounted to about 8.51 million barrels per day (bpd), while imports were still about 7.86 million bpd.” [Emphasis added.]

What’s worse is that Facebook misrepresented the impact of censorship. The platform sent notifications that it was limiting the reach of several MRC posts tagged with the “missing context” label. 

The notifications read as follows: “The post will be moved lower in Feed because it includes information that independent fact-checkers said was false.” The action contradicts Facebook’s own policies. Reduced distribution penalties apply to posts labeled “False” or “Altered,” not those tagged with “Missing Context” labels. 

According to Meta’s fact-checking policy, posts tagged “False” or “Altered” “result in our most aggressive actions: we will dramatically reduce the distribution of these posts, and apply our strongest warning labels.” However, “For content that's ‘Missing Context,’ we'll focus on surfacing more information from our fact-checking partners … [and] we'll be introducing a lighter-weight warning label to more precisely reflect fact-checkers' assessments.” [Emphasis added.]

So, which is it – “Missing context” or “False”? A Facebook spokesperson told the MRC that the Facebook notifications accusing the posts of “false” information leading to active reduction in distribution were in “error.” However, this concession is useless as both forms of censorship are geared towards reducing web traffic. Facebook reported that similarly fact-checked posts see a large reduction in engagement.

Facebook’s standard for censorship is ridiculous and hypocritical. The verified Democratic Party account posted March 10: “Fact: The U.S. is more energy independent under President Joe Biden than it was under Trump.” According to the AFP fact-check Facebook used to censor the MRC, Halff argued that “the notion of ‘energy independence’ has little meaning in a globally interconnected world. ‘I can't think of any country that’s energy independent,’ Halff said.” It appears that Facebook allows statements that the U.S. is“energy independent” only if they benefit the left. [Emphasis added.]

Facebook used Lever’s other fact-check to target a NewsBusters post promoting the MRC’s Keystone XL documentary. The post stated: “Learn more about how Joe Biden and the far-left destroyed America's energy independence in our mini-doc Killing Keystone.” Lever’s March 10 fact-check headlined “Posts mislead on factors behind US energy price spike” tried to deflect blame for spiking gas prices away from Biden's eco-activist “war” on American energy and killing the Keystone XL pipeline. 

The same promotion was posted (and censored) on NewsBusters’ Instagram account with a different caption that read: “Ever wonder why gas prices are [rising]? Link in bio to watch our award-winning mini-doc!” Lever claimed such arguments were “misleading” because “sharp swings in energy prices in 2022 come from a variety of factors.” 

American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Benjamin Zycher pointed out that Biden's war against fossil fuels contributed to reduced output because of expectations of constraints on future investment. This, in turn, ended up lifting prices. “Look no further than the Biden administration’s policies for the answer,” Zycher said. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Continental Resources Chairman Harold Hamm said, “one thing stands in the way” of Americans seeing relief at the pump:

President Biden’s unwillingness to reverse course on his administration’s commitment to put the American oil-and-gas industry out of business at the consumer’s expense.

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