Facebook is set to end its policy that largely gives politicians carte blanche to break content rules against hate speech, a dramatic shift after years of largely leaving such posts alone because of their newsworthiness, according to several reports.
When the change, first reported by The Verge, takes effect, politicians will be required to adhere to the company’s guidelines that prohibit harassment, discrimination or harmful posts. Facebook has already instituted policies meant to curb misinformation and false news, including removing posts that make false claims about COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
The shift, which Facebook reportedly plans to announce on Friday, comes after the social media giant indefinitely banned former President Donald Trump from posting following his efforts to inflame supporters before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Facebook Oversight Board upheld the suspension last month, but gave the company six months to determine if the response was “proportionate.” (The company does not currently list indefinite suspensions as part of its policies, The Washington Post notes.)
Trump has called his ban “a total disgrace” and threatened that the company, and others like Twitter, would “pay a political price.” Twitter took a similar stance with its own ban on Trump, and has also instituted policies that hide offensive or abusive messages behind a warning label, or designating them as misinformation.
Facebook had largely refused to moderate politicians’ posts since at least 2016, saying in 2019 that such comments are newsworthy and that the company would, as a “general rule,” leave them up to be “seen and heard.” Also in 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was adamant the company wouldn’t police political speech.
“The long journey towards greater progress requires confronting ideas that challenge us,” Zuckerberg said during a speech at Georgetown University at the time. “I’m here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression.”
The Verge and other outlets reported that Facebook plans to publicly share some details about how it penalizes accounts that break content rules, including letting users know when they do so. It will also share how it uses newsworthiness exemption to leave controversial posts untouched.
Facebook has been on the defensive since banning Trump. Florida last month became the first state to announce it would fine social media companies that permanently bar political candidates there.