Upon Further Review, Facebook Will Label Politicians’ Posts That Violate Its Rules

The social network also updated its efforts to prevent voter suppression, provide accurate voting information

A Voting Information Center will appear at the top of Facebook’s News Feed and Instagram’s feed Facebook
Headshot of David Cohen

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is taking a page out of the Twitter handbook, revealing during a Facebook Live video Friday afternoon that the social network will begin labeling content from elected officials that it deems newsworthy, but that would otherwise violate its policies.

Zuckerberg explained in a separate post that this occurs “a handful of times a year,” and that seeing speech from politicians is often in the public interest, and that content will be allowed to remain on its platform as long as the public interest value outweighs the risk of harm.

This marks a shift from his comments late last month, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s now-infamous “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” social post.

Twitter chose to allow the tweet to remain accessible, while placing it behind a label indicating that it violated the platform’s rules against glorifying violence.

Facebook, meanwhile, allowed the post to remain live as-is, with Zuckerberg saying at the time that it did not violate the social network’s policies, writing in a Facebook post in the late hours of May 29, “Unlike Twitter, we do not have a policy of putting a warning in front of posts that may incite violence because we believe that if a post incites violence, it should be removed regardless of whether it is newsworthy, even if it comes from a politician.”

Zuckerberg said during his livestream Friday that there will be no exceptions for content that glorifies violence or is intended to suppress voting, adding, “We’re going to take that content down, no matter who says it. There are no exceptions for politicians in any of the policies I’m announcing here today.”

Zuckerberg wrote in his post that people will be allowed to share content that is labeled in this fashion in order “to condemn it, just like we do with other problematic content,” but they will see a prompt informing them that the content may violate its policies.

Free Press co-CEO Jessica J. González weighed in, saying in a statement, “Facebook must understand that enabling the spread of hate speech comes at a huge financial cost. The country is changing. We’re at a pivotal moment in the fight for the rights of Black and Brown people. Unless Facebook changes and takes crucial steps to curtail the spread of racism and bigotry, it will continue to suffer consequences.”

#StopHateForProfit, the push for advertisers to boycott Facebook, counts Free Press among its organizers, along with the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, Common Sense Media, the NAACP and Sleeping Giants.

And that push is working, as several brands have committed to various degrees. A list, which will be updated as needed, is available here.

The bulk of Zuckerberg’s appearance on Facebook Live was devoted to the upcoming presidential election in the U.S., and he said, “The 2020 elections were already shaping up to be incredibly heated before we faced the complexities of a pandemic and racial injustice.”

He expanded on last week’s news that Facebook was embarking on the “largest voter information campaign in American history,” with plans to register 4 million people prior to Election Day (Nov. 3) by outlining steps the company is taking to provide authoritative information on the process.

Zuckerberg noted that Covid-19 brings the extra challenge of potentially scaring people away from going to the polls, making accurate information even more vital.

A Voting Information Center will appear at the top of Facebook’s News Feed and Instagram’s feed, directing users to information on how and where to vote, including voting by mail and early voting.

The Voting Information Center will also contain links to posts that discuss voting, including posts from politicians, with Zuckerberg adding that including these posts is not a judgment on their accuracy, but an attempt to share authoritative information.

Zuckerberg said as an example, “If someone says on Election Day that a city has been identified as a Covid-19 hotspot, is that voter suppression or simply sharing health information?”

Facebook is also tightening up the policies it implemented in 2018 regarding voter suppression.

“The most dangerous voter suppression campaigns can often be local and in the days before the election,” Zuckerberg said during his livestream.

The social network will use its Elections Operations Center to respond to and remove false claims about polling conditions in the 72 hours prior to elections, partnering with state election authorities to determine the accuracy of information.

Zuckerberg said, “We know this is going to be challenging in practice. Facts on the ground can be uncertain, and they can change quickly.”

Posts making false claims will also be removed, and Zuckerberg offered as examples in his post claims that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will be checking for immigration papers at polling places, or that “My friends and I will be doing our own monitoring of the polls to make sure only the right people vote.”

Facebook will also tighten its standards on hateful content in ads, with Zuckerberg saying during his livestream, “We believe there is a public interest in allowing a wider range of expression in people’s posts than in ads. We want to do more to prohibit the kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric that has been used to sow discord.”

The social network is expanding its policies to ensure that claims that 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 are not allowed.

Facebook will also prevent claims that groups including immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are inferior, or contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at those groups.

Zuckerberg said many of the changes revealed Friday came as a result of discussions with the civil rights community and Facebook’s civil rights auditors, led by experts Laura Murphy and Megan Cacace, partner at civil rights law firm Relman Colfax.

He wrote in his post Friday, “Overall, the policies we’re implementing today are designed to address the reality of the challenges our country is facing and how they’re showing up across our community. I’m committed to making sure Facebook remains a place where people can use their voice to discuss important issues, because I believe we can make more progress when we hear each other. But I also stand against hate, or anything that incites violence or suppresses voting, and we’re committed to removing that no matter where it comes from.”

Zuckerberg concluded, “We’re continuing to review our policies, and we’ll keep working with outside experts and civil rights organizations to adjust our approach as new risks emerge. I’m optimistic that we can make progress on public health and racial justice while maintaining our democratic traditions around free expression and voting. I’m committed to making sure Facebook is a force for good on this journey.”

González was left unsatisfied, however, saying in her statement, “While these changes are important, Facebook is doing the bare minimum to stop hate on its platform. We’ll be watching carefully to ensure that Zuckerberg follows through on these promises, and we’ll carry on with our fight for more holistic change at the company through our work with the Change the Terms and #StopHateForProfit coalitions.”


david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.
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