New ‘Fact Check’ Stifles Informed Debate on Virus Origin, Results in Advancing Beijing’s Agenda

April 19, 2020 Updated: April 20, 2020

After The Epoch Times published a documentary, “Tracking Down the Origin of the Wuhan Coronavirus,” which went on to garner more than 70 million views and appreciative comments from well-informed observers, Facebook marked it as “false.”

The Epoch Times emailed the fact-checker employed by Facebook, “Health Feedback,” pointing out that our documentary had been labeled “false” on the basis of a review of a New York Post article published in February, not of any consideration of our film.

The key source for the fact-checker’s claim that the virus couldn’t have accidentally escaped the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was reportedly storing thousands of viruses, is a Singapore-based scientist who herself works with the lab—hardly an impartial source. While the fact check asserts the Wuhan lab is safe, in reality, the question of its safety remains open. As a Washington Post headline states, “State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses.”

We also registered our disagreement with the fact-checker in a published statement.

While Health Feedback promised to get back to us within 24 hours, it never did. Instead, another member of the organization, Pablo Rougerie, a postdoctoral researcher at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, published a new “fact check” specific to our documentary. At no point in time did the organization or any of its fact-checkers reach out to us for comment, a customary practice.

Included in Rougerie’s fact check is an unsubstantiated, gratuitous, and defamatory attack on The Epoch Times, which raises questions about possible bias on his part.

Rougerie’s fact check states that “the video argues that the pandemic could have resulted from the accidental or intentional release of either a natural virus under study or an artificial virus that was bioengineered (manmade).” But then his article seeks to refute the claim that the virus was bioengineered and escaped from the lab.

In doing so, the fact check attributes to our documentary positions it never took: It never ruled out a natural origin and it does not assert that the virus was engineered. The documentary is fastidious in not giving any definitive conclusions regarding the origin. It presents the facts that were known and the opinions of experts, exploring different possible explanations. At this stage, we believe it is very premature to rule out with absolute certainty the possibility that some form of bioengineering created this virus or that it originated in the Wuhan lab.

Without going over all the scientific details involved in our dispute with the fact-checker, we will here state that it is our position that there should be transparency and vigorous public debate regarding all the facts related to the Wuhan coronavirus.

The fact-checker and, by extension, Facebook seem to want to establish that there is only one point of view allowed regarding the origin of the virus: that it occurred naturally.

That there is controversy over the origin of the virus owes a great deal to the actions of the Chinese regime. China’s communist authorities haven’t been forthcoming with vital information on the virus’s early spread, that could’ve helped to contain it. Instead, China silenced early whistleblowers, destroyed samples, and falsified data. Similarly, as scientists around the world now struggle to fully understand the virus, China fails to be forthcoming with the necessary data.

Since the publication of the documentary, more information has surfaced. Consistent with the possibilities considered by our documentary, Fox News recently reported, based on U.S. classified and open-source documents, that the virus originated in the Wuhan lab.

Nobel Prize-winning French virologist Dr. Luc Montagnier argues that the Wuhan lab was trying to engineer an HIV vaccine, using the coronavirus as a vector.

For Beijing, this is not a theoretical discussion. It stands to be on the hook for damages in the trillions of dollars, sought by countries around the world. If the virus is found to have occurred naturally, Beijing’s culpability lessens, though it still faces grave questions about its handling of the outbreak. A fact check that rules out the possibility that the virus was engineered, and holds open the possibility that it was naturally occurring, is congenial to Beijing’s interests.

Facebook has complicated policies regarding its use of fact-checking. In this instance, with nations and people all around the world having a profound interest in the truth of the situation, perhaps Facebook should stand aside and let competing opinions vie for public approval, rather than presuming to determine the truth of a complicated matter on which the jury is very much still out.

The fact-checker can publish an essay setting forth his understanding of the genesis of the virus. There is no need to try to silence a differing opinion. The public, and the truth, will be best served in this way.

In any case, Facebook’s hired fact-checker failed to make his case, and Facebook should withdraw its label on our film.

Follow Stephen on Twitter: @StephenEpoch