Facebook stops special treatment for politicians after Trump ban

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Facebook plans to end its controversial policy that protects politicians from content moderation rules that apply to other users, a sharp turn of events that could have global implications for how elected officials use the social network.

The change, which Facebook will announce as soon as Friday, comes after the Oversight Board — an independent group funded by Facebook to review its most thorny content statements — confirmed its decision to suspend former President Donald Trump, but criticized the move. special treatment it gives politicians, stating that “the same rules should apply to all users”. The board has given Facebook until June 5 to respond to its policy recommendations.

Facebook also plans to shed light on the secret system of strikes it provides for violating its content rules, according to two people familiar with the changes. This includes informing users when they have received a warning for violating the rules that could lead to suspension. BuzzFeed News and other outlets have previously reported on cases where Facebook employees intervened to prevent political pages from being subjected to harsh penalties under the strike policy.

Facebook also plans to disclose when it will use a special newsworthiness waiver to track content from politicians and others who would otherwise break its rules.

A Facebook spokesperson had no comment on this story.

The changes are notable for Facebook, as it has historically taken a hands-off approach to what elected officials say about its service. Business leaders, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have said they shouldn’t be controlling politicians’ speeches. They have argued that such statements are already the most monitored in the world, and that private companies should not censor what politicians say to their citizens.

In recent years, Facebook has maintained a list of political accounts that are not subject to the same fact-checking or content moderation processes that apply to other users. In 2019, a group of employees asked for the list to be lifted, citing internal research that showed people were especially likely to believe falsehoods when shared by an elected official, according to The information.

That same year, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, clarified the policy publicly, saying “we will treat politicians’ speech as newsworthy content to be seen and heard as a general rule.” In addition to explicitly illegal content such as child pornography, Facebook would only act against comments from politicians if they could credibly cause physical harm or discourage voting.

Content from other sources that politicians share, such as news links or videos, is already subject to fact-checking, a step that could greatly reduce the spread of messages. Under Facebook’s new policy, posts posted directly by politicians will still not be reviewed by the company’s network of independent fact-checkers. But they will first be open to the same set of rules on things like bullying that Facebook’s moderators apply to other users.

The hands-off policy of political speech met an intense backlash when Trump used Facebook to foment division after the George Floyd assassination and later praised his supporters when they attempted a violent uprising in the US Capitol in January. And in India, Facebook’s largest country according to users, the company has company come under fire for failing to act against violent comments by members of the ruling party. Under the new policy for politicians, Facebook could still use its newsworthiness waiver to leave a message that would otherwise be removed. But it will commit to make it known when it does.

After the attack on the Capitol in January by Trump’s followers, Facebook indefinitely blocked its ability to post and referred the decision to the Oversight Board, a group of human rights experts it set up to pass a verdict on the capitol. enforcement of the policy. The board responded by saying that Facebook was wrong to take special action against Trump’s account because public policy doesn’t explain when it can block someone’s ability to post indefinitely.

in his written response to Facebook on May 5, the board called on the company to “address widespread confusion about how decisions regarding influential users are made.” Facebook was given 30 days to respond to the board’s recommendations and six months to complete the review of Trump’s account.