I run a startup that’s building a product to help people capture and share their research processes, archiving source materials as they go. It’s like Twitch but for journalists and other public-facing researchers. A few weeks ago, we released a new BETA version. Part of my job is stress testing the software to see how it stands up to a real world use case. On 21 July, I decided to fact-check a Friendlyjordies video released two days prior, called “Why You’re Not Vaccinated…” which I (a subscriber) had been looking forward to watching, but not had time for yet. A long-term admirer of the channel, I had even approached them in 2019 about an (aborted) plan (which they declined) to have paid guest bloggers use early versions of the software.
My impression at the time, which I had not re-examined until now, was that they were a comedic but factually sound channel. I decided to test this perception by checking this most recent video in a structured and methodical way. The results shocked me.
I identified 15 claims (leaving out vague claims such as “Kevin Rudd’s mad” and the government “fucked up” the vaccine roll out) or editorialisations. I then located and examined the source materials shown onscreen by FJ and depending how contentious the claim was, looked for confirmation or contradiction of it in other media, then rated it between 0-1, with 0 being a total fabrication and 1 being a totally factual statement. I found seven of the claims to be completely true, three to be more than half true, and five to be less than half true. No claims received a score of 0 – which would mean total fabrication. The average truth score was 0.7.
The most egregious falsehoods (scoring 0.1) are the first two checkable claims. The first of these is that “we have a seven percent rollout”. This had been corrected to 8% in text on screen, to match the source article which was showing on screen. This source article was published by The Guardian on 1 July, and used numbers from (and linked to) a weekly update posted to health.gov.au that same day. In the 17 days between the article and the video being released, there had been two more weekly updates, and 17 daily updates to these numbers (though for some reason none on the day of the video release itself). The most recent update put the number at 13.59, almost double the figure cited by Jordies.
The second checkable claim also scored 0.1 out of a possible 1, as it is another example of an extreme falsehood. The claim was:
“Scott Morrison seems to have brought our entire vaccination supply off of whether it pumps up Dave Sharma’s share portfolio, not if it causes blood clots”
A source for this was an (excellently sourced and extremely specific) article by Michelle Pini in Independent Australia which suggests that two of Dave Sharma’s share purchases should be investigated, as government decisions would later benefit the companies whose shares he had purchased. Another article by Shane Dowling on Kangaroo Court of Australia comes right out and uses the words “insider trading” to describe Sharma’s actions. But neither suggest, as FJ does, that Morrison has factored Sharma’s interests into policy decisions. This appears to be an accusation entirely of FJs confection. In searching for any articles about this, I found an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about conflict between Sharma and Morrison over policies relating to gay teachers in private schools, and another in Junkee, about Morrison getting Sharma’s first name wrong on Twitter – assuming Dave was short for David, rather than Devanand. It’s circumstantial, but the fact Morrison doesn’t know his actual name strongly contradicts a narrative in which the PM and Sharma are conspiratorially entwined.
This struck me as extremely immoral, especially because of the flippant reference to the vaccine causing blood clots, a serious issue that has fostered a lot of anxiety. For a media professional to, without any evidence, lay these complications, including several deaths, at the feet of the PM, and to imply they are the result of a corrupted decision making process – that the vaccine roll out is being guided primarily by the interests of health company shareholders and/or political insiders – is wrong in and of itself. The fact that it also feeds vaccine conspiracy theories makes it even worse.
The third statement I found to be less than half true (I scored it 0.3) is that Morrison gave the vaccine roll out contract to a “personal mate”. It was not immediately obvious whether this should be a checkable claim, since it was said in a comical voice, meant to be the PM’s. But given the context of other similar accusations, and the decision to flash a source article on screen, it seems to me that a reasonable person would think this was meant as a serious claim. But once again FJ is misrepresenting the content of source material which they flash on screen. The source article uses the words “Mates Not States” but does not claim Morrison gave the contract to a personal mate. Rather it points out donations by these companies to the Liberal Party (as well as smaller donations to the Labor Party) and previous government contracts awarded – implying a cosy and somewhat unseemly institutional relationship between these big businesses and the Liberal Party, rather than personal corruption by Scott Morrison.
The fourth claim to receive a sub 0.5 ranking (0.3) is that the Morrison government gave “the contract to companies who don’t even do this thing”. In this case, FJ is directly and accurately quoting the source they show on screen. But this source, an article by Andrew P Street in Independent Australia, contradicts itself a few paragraphs down, describing a contract given to one of these companies earlier in the pandemic (to raise concerns over the size of said contract). On their own website, one of the companies also discusses testing and other tasks they have undertaken during the pandemic. Given that they are healthcare companies, it is not, as FJ opines, like having the Kraft food company build a road.
The fifth claim to receive a 0.5 score or lower (it scored 0.5), and the last I will detail here is that “Former Labor Minister Greg Combet designed JobKeeper for them [the coalition]”. FJ goes significantly beyond what the source documents they reference describe, creating the impression Combet was the primary architect of the JobKeeper program. Rosslyn Beeby, whose article FJ cites, describes his role as ”to report on the workplace impacts of Covid-19”. This other article, by The New Daily – which Jordies cites elsewhere and so presumably considers reliable – describes the role as providing “strategic and policy advice to the minister”. I would add that it is a sad indictment of our political culture that reaching across the aisle for expertise is seen and presented as a sign of failure.
Obviously there are also seven claims that I have rated as entirely true, three which I have rated as mostly true. I have not detailed those here, just as you wouldn’t, in a news article, focus on the majority of customers who do not get salmonella from a particular restaurant, or the two of three passengers an Uber driver is taking to the correct locations before taking every third to a random incorrect location. You can see a table containing all the claims, their sources, and my findings, here.
I am aware that this comes at a bad time for FJ, since they are already involved in one libel suit with the deputy premier of NSW. I have no comment on that case whatsoever. His producer is also facing criminal stalking charges over approaching the same person. Similarly, I make no comment about this case, except that it is extraordinary that any politician would attempt to criminalise scrutiny, however close, from a member of the press or public.
In the meantime, the Friendlyjordies channel is still producing content, and this content should still be subject to scrutiny of its own. I also speculate that those within the progressive movement who sacrifice accuracy for short-term wins (mainly on social media) contribute to a climate of confusion and disinformation which ultimately undermines progressive goals.