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Facebook To Reverse Political Protections, Opening Door To Censorship
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg, 33, was called to testify after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In recent years, Facebook has applied a “newsworthy” status to some political accounts, which are not subject to the same fact-checking requirements or content moderation rules as other users on its platform.

Facebook plans to end this policy, however, in a shocking reversal that could have drastic ramifications when it comes to free speech online, according to The Verge.

“We don’t believe … that it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny,” said Facebook vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, in 2019. “That’s why Facebook exempts politicians from our third-party fact-checking program.”

After noting that politicians are eligible for fact-checking if they share “previously debunked content,” Clegg continued to explain Facebook’s “newsworthiness exemption.”

“Today, I announced that from now on we will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard. However, in keeping with the principle that we apply different standards to content for which we receive payment, this will not apply to ads – if someone chooses to post an ad on Facebook, they must still fall within our Community Standards and our advertising policies,” Clegg explained.

However, as The Verge reported, “Facebook plans to end its controversial policy that mostly shields politicians from the content moderation rules that apply to other users, a sharp reversal that could have global ramifications for how elected officials use the social network.”

The Verge then explained that this change followed Facebook’s controversial Oversight Board’s move to uphold its decision to suspend former President Donald Trump from the platform while also criticizing the Big Tech giant for avoiding “its responsibilities.”

“Facebook also plans to shed light on the secretive system of strikes it gives accounts for breaking its content rules, according to two people familiar with the changes,” The Verge added, and that “Facebook is also set to begin disclosing when it uses a special newsworthiness exemption to keep up content from politicians and others that would otherwise violate its rules.”

This reported change in policy is a drastic shift from the “hands-off approach” which has been applied by Facebook in recent years regarding the subject of political speech. Speaking at Georgetown University in October 2019, for example, Mark Zuckerberg sparked a furious backlash among Democrats after he argued in favor of “free expression,” and spoke out against the notion of policing political speech.

Zuckerberg’s comments, which were openly in favor of online free speech, were a response to widespread criticism, with Senator Elizabeth Warren having accused Facebook of being a “disinformation-for-profit machine.” 

According to The Washington Post, “Facebook doesn’t plan to end the newsworthiness exception entirely.”

“In the cases where an exception is made, the company will now disclose it publicly, the person said — after years of such decisions being closely held,” The Washington Post reported.

However, this reversal will raise red flags for advocates of free speech online, as the door of political censorship on Facebook and Instagram is slowly opened even further.

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