According to an Associated Press story, Facebook plans to end a contentious policy first supported by CEO Mark Zuckerberg that exempted politicians from some moderation rules on its site, according to several news reports. In other words, they’ll be treated just like the rest of us and not allowed to make claims that cannot be substantiated.
This is a sharp reversal that could have global implications. It comes after years of criticism that the social media giant was too deferential to political figures.
Beginning in 2016, Facebook set a general “newsworthiness exemption”. Generally that policy meant that the speech of political leaders is inherently newsworthy. Therefore, it should be allowed in the public interest based on that newsworthiness, even if offensive, bullying, or otherwise controversial.
But that behind-the-scenes policy began to get attention in 2019 when Facebook Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg, announced that speech from politicians will be treated as “newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.” His blog at the time attempted to explain the Facebook position saying, “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.”
But it would appear that times are changing. The policy was first reported by the tech site The Verge and later confirmed by the New York Times and The Washington Post. Facebook has yet to issue a formal statement.
It is unclear whether the move will further muddy the waters of truth, or make them more clear. The social media giant still has to deal with what to do with the account of former President Donald Trump.
Facebook suspended Trump “indefinitely” on Jan. 6, the day of the insurrection against the U.S. Capitol following a Trump rally near the White House. It cited “the risk of further incitement of violence” following the deadly insurrection as the reason. Facebook says it has never used the newsworthiness exemption for any of Trump’s posts.