The Intercept’s Viral Immigration Article is Retracted During Tense Week for Undocumented Immigrants

On Monday March 26th, The Intercept posted an article written by reporter Lee Fang, with the headline that implicated that ICE was using private Facebook Data to find and track a criminal suspect that was an unauthorized immigrant, via a public records request filed by The Intercept.

In both asserting that the suspect was an undocumented immigrant and that the ICE officials were using private Facebook data, turned out to be false. The revelation prompted the following retractions to be release by The Intercept on Monday, with the addition of an official statement given by Facebook denying the claims made in the article:

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(Retractions via The Intercept on March 26, 2018)

The first release of the article went viral on social media on Monday. The article’s release coincided with another wave of rising tension within immigrant communities across the country this week, as Vox reported the announcement by the US Census Bureau that the 2020 census will ask households which members of the family are US citizens and the Trump administration’s order to end automatic release from detention for undocumented pregnant women, as reported in the Washington Post.

The Intercept’s D.C Bureau Chief, Ryan Grim took responsibility for the error on Twitter, where founders Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, each separately tweeted out in defense of Fang’s integrity after the initial backlash Fang received on Twitter.

In the first release of the article written by Intercept Journalist Lee Fang, it appeared that Fang asserted that internal ICE emails showed that in February and March of 2017, ICE agents were coordinating via email to send a “Facebook Business Record” with a local detective from Las Cruces, New Mexico. According to the article, the agents aggregated the data through a “Backend log” on Facebook, where the subjects last point of accessing his account and IP address revealing the subject’s phone number and location of each log in. The email correspondence revealed in the article also alluded to an employee of Palantir Data Analytics potentially aiding in the retrieval of the data, as the company owned by venture capitalist Peter Thiel,  has been in contract with ICE since 2014 according to the Intercept. Thiel also serves on Facebook’s board of directors.

The Social Media Timeline of Lee’s Article

(Created by Alexander Michael Buono via Timetoast)

The New York Times’ Zyenep tufeki tweeted that “motivated reasoning” led to the retracted headline’s claim that it was undocumented immigrant, where Vox’s Dara Lind responded in a series of tweets that the “framing” of Fang’s article implied heavily that ICE’s immigration division used this data. According to Lind, it was a joint federal and local criminal investigation between Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), another agency within ICE, that is unrelated to immigration enforcement.

According to Pew Research Poll from January, news organizations account for 75 percent of tweets related to immigration on Twitter.

Lee Fang returned to Twitter on March 27 to respond to critics on social media, and gave his take on the course of events while on still on vacation.

“I was out of cell phone service for most of the day yesterday, in a different time zone, and had no idea the piece had been radically changed with information I did not include in my submitted draft and pubbed under my name until many hours after it was up. I was blindsided,” Fang wrote on Twitter.

To read more on the article, click here.

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