- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2022

Meta’s fact-checkers for Facebook and Instagram are siding with President Biden in a major policy debate, flagging posts that accuse the administration of changing the definition of recession as “false information.”

With the midterm elections looming, the White House and its critics are in a fierce public relations battle over whether the U.S. economy’s two straight quarters of GDP decline — historically a benchmark closely tied to the onset of a recession — technically meets the formal definition set by economists.

Reason magazine reported on two posts — one from each of the social media platforms — that PolitiFact, Meta’s third-party fact checker, had tagged claiming they contained “partly false information. Checked by independent fact-checkers.”

Both of the posts use screenshots of the White House blog post from July 21 that reads: “While some maintain that two consecutive quarters of falling real GDP constitute a recession, that is neither the official definition nor the way economists evaluate the state of the business cycle.”

The Instagram post is from conservative podcaster Graham Allen, who mocks the blog post by asking Siri what a recession is. 

The built-in iPhone artificial intelligence service told him that a recession is “a period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, generally identified by a fall in GDP in two successive quarters.”

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The Facebook post is from a user with a caption that reads: “Even if Thursday’s GDP report shows a second consecutive quarter of negative growth, you won’t hear the Biden admin using the R-word.”

When you click on the tag that tells you why the posts were rated “partly false information,” it says “No, the White House didn’t change of the definition of ‘recession.’”

A more expansive fact-check posted on PolitiFact’s website homed in on Mr. Allen’s claim that “the White House is now trying to protect Joe Biden by changing the definition of the word ‘recession.’”

The post said that Siri “holds no official stature” and that the two-quarters yardstick is used colloquially rather than in any official capacity. 

The fact-check said that the National Bureau of Economic Research has the final say on whether or not the country is experiencing a recession. Its definition is more broad, identifying it as “a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and that lasts more than a few months.” The White House has also cited the nation’s strong job market and low unemployment rate, both of which are not characteristic of an economy in recession.

However, the fact-check did acknowledge some political spin was evident in the recent economic news.

Phil Magness, director of research and education at the American Institute for Economic Research, told Reason that the fact-check site has previously cited the consecutive-quarter rule for political reasons.

“The fact-checking industry has become a partisan arbiter of political disputes, using claims of expertise that its writers do not actually possess to censor and shut down challenges to the political left,” Mr. Magness told the magazine.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified conservative podcaster Graham Allen.

• Matt Delaney can be reached at mdelaney@washingtontimes.com.

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