Facebook Changing Special Exception for Politicians

Facebook will change a policy that has protected politicians from the social media network’s content moderation rules, which could change how politicians use the platform, The Verge reports.

The decision comes after the Oversight Board, an outside group that reviewed Facebook’s suspension of former President Donald Trump, criticized their granting politicians special treatment, saying that the “same rules should apply to all users.” 

The board wrote: “While the same rules should apply to all users, context matters when assessing the probability and imminence of harm. When posts by influential users pose a high probability of imminent harm, Facebook should act quickly to enforce its rules. Although Facebook explained that it did not apply its ‘newsworthiness’ allowance in this case, the Board called on Facebook to address widespread confusion about how decisions relating to influential users are made. The Board stressed that considerations of newsworthiness should not take priority when urgent action is needed to prevent significant harm.”

According to the Verge, Facebook will continue to allow a special newsworthiness exemption, but it will not automatically be considered when looking at a post from a politician, as it was previously. Facebook will also start to publicly disclose when content receives an exemption based on newsworthiness but would otherwise violate the company’s policies.

A spokesperson for Facebook did not comment to the Verge or The Washington Post on the policy change, which was disclosed by the Verge’s sources under the condition of anonymity. In 2019, Facebook vice president of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg said in a blog post that content from politicians will be considered “newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.”

Clegg said at the time, “When we make a determination as to newsworthiness, we evaluate the public interest value of the piece of speech against the risk of harm. When balancing these interests, we take a number of factors into consideration, including country-specific circumstances, like whether there is an election underway or the country is at war; the nature of the speech, including whether it relates to governance or politics; and the political structure of the country, including whether the country has a free press. In evaluating the risk of harm, we will consider the severity of the harm. Content that has the potential to incite violence, for example, may pose a safety risk that outweighs the public interest value. Each of these evaluations will be holistic and comprehensive in nature, and will account for international human rights standards.”

According to the Post, the exemption was created in response to Trump’s comments about Muslims during his campaign for reelection. Facebook says that the exemption is hardly ever used, and has only publicly acknowledged its use in six instances, all of which concerned posts made outside the United States.

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