Fact checkers point to Facebook and Instagram posts criticizing White House definition denying recession

Meta fact checkers for Facebook and Instagram are siding with President Biden in a major political debate, pointing to posts that accuse the administration of changing the definition of recession as “fake news.”

As the midterm elections approach, the White House and its critics are engaged in a fierce public relations battle over whether the US economy’s two consecutive quarters of GDP decline – historically a benchmark closely tied to the start of the a recession – technically meet the formal definition established 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 “partially false information.” Verified by independent fact checkers.

Both articles use screenshots from the July 21 White House blog which reads: “While some argue that two consecutive quarters of real GDP decline constitutes a recession, this is neither the official definition nor how economists assess the state of the business cycle.”

The Instagram post is from conservative podcaster Grant Allen, who pokes fun at the blog post by asking Siri what a recession is.

The artificial intelligence service built into the iPhone explained to him that a recession is “a period of temporary economic decline during which commercial and industrial activity is reduced, generally identified by a decline in GDP over the course of two successive quarters.

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The Facebook post is from a user with a caption that reads, “Even though Thursday’s GDP report shows a second straight quarter of negative growth, you won’t hear Administrator Biden use the R-word. “

When you click on the tag that tells you why the posts have been classified as “partially false information”, it says “No, the White House has not changed the definition of ‘recession’.”

A more in-depth fact check published on the PolitiFact website focused 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 message stated that Siri “has no official stature” and that the two-quarters criterion is used colloquially rather than in an official capacity.

The fact check indicates that the National Bureau of Economic Research has the final say on whether or not the country is in a recession. Its definition is broader, identifying it as “a significant decline in economic activity that spreads throughout the economy and lasts for more than a few months.” The White House also cited the country’s strong labor market and low unemployment rate, which are not characteristic of an economy in recession.

However, the fact check acknowledged that some political spin was evident in recent economic news.

Phil Magness, director of research and education at the American Institute for Economic Research, told Reason that the fact-checking site 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 its authors don’t actually possess to censor and shut down challenges from the political left,” Magness told the magazine.

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