Facebook to Apply Content Moderation Rules to Previously Excluded Politicians

Facebook will end a policy that keeps content moderation rules from applying to politicians. The reversal of these rules, that apply to other users, could have a global impact on how elected officials use the platform. Facebook is expected to announce the change on Friday. 

The move comes after the Oversight Board, an independent group funded by Facebook to review complicated content moderation decisions, affirmed Facebook’s decision to suspend former President Donald Trump’s account for violating its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations. This suspension came in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots, when supporters of the former Republican president stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington. The Oversight Board demanded that Facebook “justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform.” The board gave Facebook till June 5th to respond to its policy recommendations.

Facebook will also reveal more about the system of strikes it gives accounts for breaking its content rules, two people familiar with the changes told The Verge. This will include alerting users when they receive a strike for violating its rules that could lead to suspension and begin disclosing when it uses a special newsworthiness exemption to keep up content from politicians and others that would otherwise violate its rules.

These changes are in contrast to Facebook’s usual approach to monitoring content produced by elected officials. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives have said that they shouldn’t act as arbitrers of free speech. “I don’t think it’s right for a private company to censor politicians or the news in a democracy,” Zuckerberg said in October 2019 after several politicians urged him to remove then incumbent president Donald Trump’s campaign ads.

Facebook has maintained a list of political accounts that don’t have to go through the fact-checking or content moderation processes that other users do. In 2019, several employees requested for the dissolution of the list, citing that people were especially likely to believe falsehoods if they were shared by an elected official, according to The Information. This belief was also compounded by the Oversight Board In a policy advisory statement, when it made several recommendations to guide Facebook’s policies about risks of harm posed by political leaders and other influential figures. Although all users should face the same rules, posts by influential users pose a higher probability of imminent harm, thus making it important for Facebook to enforce its rules quickly.

Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, in 2019 said about the exclusionary policy “Facebook has had a newsworthiness exemption since 2016. This means that if someone makes a statement or shares a post which breaks our community standards we will still allow it on our platform if we believe the public interest in seeing it outweighs the risk of harm..” 

Under Facebook’s new policies, posts made directly by politicians will be open to enforcement against more rules for things like bullying, that Facebook’s moderators apply to other users.

In India also, Facebook has faced immense backlash for not taking action against violent comments made by members of the ruling party. Facebook could still use its newsworthiness exemption to leave up a post that would be taken down if it were made by any other user, but it will have to disclose when it does so.

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