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Facebook Will Start Flagging Violating Content From Politicians Like Donald Trump, Just Like Twitter

Todd Spangler

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Facebook is doing an about-face, following Twitter’s lead in dealing with controversial and inflammatory statements from high-profile figures — like Donald Trump.

In addition, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the social-media company is banning a “wider category of hateful content in ads.” The moves represent an effort by Facebook to try to halt the spread of an advertiser boycott protesting the company’s lack of action on hate speech and harassment. That widened this week to include big marketers like Verizon and Unilever.

Zuckerberg, in an employee town hall meeting Friday, said the company will start adding warning labels to content posted by politicians that would otherwise violate its policies in the event it is deemed to be in the “public interest.”

“Often, seeing speech from politicians is in the public interest, and in the same way that news outlets will report what a politician says, we think people should generally be able to see it for themselves on our platforms,” Zuckerberg said in a follow-up blog post.

That is identical to Twitter’s policy on this issue, which it adopted a year ago. For political figures like Trump, Twitter’s policy is to leave in place tweets that would be violations for regular users in cases which the company considers them to be in the “public interest.” In June 2019, Twitter announced a policy under which tweets by political figures that violate its regular policies would be displayed with a warning notice in front of tweets.

Zuckerberg has faced a backlash both inside and outside the company for not taking any action against Trump’s comment May 29, posted on Facebook and Instagram, in which he said about Minneapolis protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Twitter hid that same message behind a warning label saying it violated its policy banning the glorification of violence.

Facebook’s reversal comes just a few weeks after Zuckerberg actively tried to distance his company’s approach from Twitter’s to moderating politicians’ content. “We have a different policy I think than Twitter on this,” he said in a Fox News interview last month. “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” he said, adding that “we think that it wouldn’t be right for us to do fact-checks for politicians.”

In announcing the plan to start adding warning labels Friday, Zuckerberg emphasized that there’s “no newsworthiness exemption to content that incites violence or suppresses voting. Even if a politician or government official says it, if we determine that content may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote, we will take that content down.”

Meanwhile, Facebook’s expanded policy banning hate speech in advertising will specifically prohibit ads that claim people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status “are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others,” Zuckerberg wrote in the blog post.

With regard to elections, Facebook is focused on preventing “new forms of potential voter suppression” during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Zuckerberg. Under this policy, Facebook will attach a link to its recently launched Voting Information Center for posts that discuss voting, including from politicians.

“This isn’t a judgement of whether the posts themselves are accurate, but we want people to have access to authoritative information either way,” the CEO wrote.

He also said Facebook’s Elections Operations Center will “quickly respond and remove false claims about polling conditions in the 72 hours leading into election day.” In addition, Facebook specifically will ban posts that make false claims about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents checking for immigration papers at polling places and remove “any threats of coordinated interference” to intimidate voters.