1 May 2020

On Friday, 24 April, FactCheckNI published a fact check, “Are COVID-19 deaths in Northern Ireland 50% higher than Ireland?” The fact check was in regards to an article published earlier that week on Wednesday 22 April in the Irish Times, “Coronavirus: Ireland is one island with two different death rates”. The content of this article was shared on Facebook’s platform, as well as other social media platforms.

FactCheckNI investigated two specific claims made within the overall article:

  1. the Republic of Ireland’s COVID-19 death rate is two-thirds of that in Northern Ireland; and
  2. the Republic of Ireland’s COVID-19 hospital death rate is two-thirds that in Northern Ireland.

Having talked to the author, we concluded that both claims were unsubstantiated, due to the lack of comparable public health data at the time of publication.

Since April 2019, FactCheckNI has participated in Facebook’s Third-Party Fact Checking Programme, as part of its efforts to minimise the spread of misinformation on its platform. (You can read more details about our participation here.) On Monday 27 April we submitted our fact check with the available label of “partly false”, which Facebook defines as: “The claim(s) of the content is/are a mix of accurate and inaccurate, or the primary claim is misleading or incomplete.” FactCheckNI determined that the unsubstantiated claims were incomplete, and rated the article accordingly.

While the selection of what to fact check and the editorial control of articles is purely a matter for FactCheckNI, Facebook controls the categories of content that can be labelled on their platform, e.g. political speech is exempt on Facebook. Publishers can in the first instance contact fact checking platforms directly to ask for labels to be reviewed.

Facebook subsequently advised us on Friday 1 May that it recognised the original Irish Times article as an opinion piece, with “conclusions based on the interpretation of facts and data”. Opinion pieces are not eligible to be rated on Facebook’s platform; we immediately removed our rating of the Irish Times article. However, our fact check article remains a valid and comprehensively researched piece and remains published on our website. A number of news outlets have amended their reporting of the claims.

FactCheckNI welcomes debate on the veracity and accuracy of claims wherever they appear, and encourages members of the public to submit claims. We seek to encourage critical thinking through rigorous fact checks and explainer articles, as well as through the training we deliver with the aim of developing critical thinking skills.