Facebook plans to end some of the preferential treatment of politicians and world leaders whose speech is much less likely to be restricted or removed when they violate the social media company’s content moderation policies, The Verge and Washington Post reported Thursday.
The change, which Facebook could announce as soon as Friday, comes after its Oversight Board upheld the decision to suspend former President Donald Trump but advised Facebook that its rules should apply equally to everyone.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone declined to comment.
Facebook froze Trump’s accounts following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. At the time, Facebook said two posts praised the attack in violation of its policies.
“Considerations of newsworthiness should not take priority when urgent action is needed to prevent significant harm,” the board told Facebook.
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The recommendations made by the Oversight Board – a quasi-independent panel of experts funded by Facebook – included rapidly escalating political posts from highly influential users to specialists inside the company who are “insulated from political and economic interference, as well as undue influence.”
Facebook will disclose when it allows newsworthy posts from politicians to remain on its platforms even if they violate its rules, The Verge and Post reported citing unnamed sources familiar with the changes. But under the revamped policy, politicians’ posts still won’t be reviewed by independent fact checkers.
The kid-gloves treatment of political speech by world leaders has drawn intense scrutiny inside and outside the company, particularly the controversial decision to leave up Trump’s posts about the Minneapolis protests that warned, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
“Facebook took far too long to do what was right and obvious to everyone. The company had long staked its rules regarding politicians to a wrong-headed notion of free expression, which privileged the speech rights of the powerful over those of everyone else,” Carmen Scurato, senior policy counsel for advocacy group Free Press, said in a statement.
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A group of critics who call themselves the Real Facebook Oversight Board said Facebook did not need an Oversight Board and a team of law professors “to tell them dictators and authoritarians were running wild on their platforms.”
“Facebook isn’t even committing to taking down dangerous, racist, violent or insurrectionist content from authoritarian leaders,” the statement said. “They are simply committing to labeling it, using its ‘newsworthiness exemption’ to leave up posts that should otherwise be removed.”
The Facebook Oversight Board last month ruled that suspending Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts was the right move, but said it was not appropriate to impose an indefinite suspension and instructed the company to review the matter within six months, opening the door to Trump’s possible return.
Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, said at the time that Facebook would consider the board’s decision and “determine an action that is clear and proportionate.”
Trump lost his direct link to supporters when he was booted from the nation’s top social media platforms following the Capitol attack. He has relied instead on a patchwork of press releases and personal messages, television interviews, emails and robocalls to reach supporters. This week he pulled the plug on a blog “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” due to low readership.