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Facebook plans to end the hands-off approach to politicians’ posts


SAN FRANCISCO – Facebook plans to announce on Friday that posts from politicians will no longer stay by default on its website if their speech breaks the rules, said two people with knowledge of the company’s plans, thereby reversing how it posts posts has allowed political personalities to remain untouched in the social network.

The change tied to Facebook’s decision to ban former President Donald J. Trump from its website is a retreat from a policy that was introduced less than two years ago when the company said it was talking about politicians newsworthy and should not be monitored.

After the change, the posts of politicians will no longer be considered newsworthy, said those with knowledge of the plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Politicians will be subject to Facebook’s content guidelines, which prohibit harassment, discrimination or other harmful speech, they said.

If Facebook finds politicians’ speech newsworthy, it can be exempted from demolition, according to a standard the company has been using since at least 2016. As of Friday, according to the people with knowledge of the plans, Facebook will disclose when this is the case and will apply the news value clause to posts that violate the rules.

Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, declined to comment. The Verge had previously reported on the change to Facebook.

The change is strong because the leaders of Facebook previously promised not to interfere in the political speech. Mark Zuckerberg, the chairman of the board, said in a speech at Georgetown University in 2019 that the company will not be an arbitrator “because I believe we must continue to advocate freedom of expression.” Nick Clegg, who heads Facebook’s public affairs, has also said that all speeches by politicians “should generally be seen and heard” on the platform.

However, Facebook has grappled with a backlash against this stance from lawmakers, civil rights activists, and even its own staff, particularly when Trump used social media to gather a crowd that stormed the U.S. Capitol on the Jan. 6 uprising, Facebook said, it would block Mr Trump because the risks of allowing him to use the platform are too great.

Since then, Mr Trump’s allies and supporters have challenged the company, saying that Facebook is censoring and has too much power over who can say what online. To defuse the situation, the social network sent its decision to block Mr. Trump to a company-appointed oversight body for review. Last month, the board of directors confirmed Mr Trump’s ban but also turned the case back to the company.

The board said that an indefinite suspension of Mr. Trump was “not appropriate” as it was not a penalty defined in Facebook’s guidelines and that the company should impose a standard penalty such as a temporary suspension or permanent ban. The board also said Facebook must respond to its recommendations on how to deal with potentially dangerous posts from world leaders by Friday.

Political leaders around the world have also tried to curtail Facebook’s power over online speech while using social media to advance their own agendas. Russia, India and other countries recently ordered Facebook to delete posts, despite some of their own politicians trying to influence citizens with Facebook posts.

In the United States, Florida last month became the first state to regulate how companies like Facebook moderate online speech by fining companies that permanently expel political candidates in the state.

Other social media companies have also made exceptions for world leaders. For years, Twitter gave politicians who broke its rules additional leeway by leaving their posts on its platform because the information was in the public interest.

In 2019, Twitter said it would continue to allow leaders to post harassing or offensive messages but hide them behind a warning label. Last year, Twitter began enforcing its rules more forcefully, removing several tweets from world leaders such as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.

On Friday, Facebook also plans to shed more light on how it will penalize rule breakers and major media outlets who post offensive content on the social network, those with knowledge of the plans said. This includes a more detailed explanation of the “strike” process, a method the company uses to list violations of accounts or pages that violated its rules.

Facebook has been criticized for a lack of transparency in the application of strikes and for inconsistent enforcement of its rules, particularly against high-ranking Conservative accounts. Insiders have questioned whether some of Facebook’s policy makers have been too lenient with right-wing figures who regularly violate the content guidelines.

Kate Conger Reporting contributed.

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