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Facebook to end long-standing exceptions made by politicians to break their rules

Facebook plans to announce on Friday that it will no longer give politicians a pass if they break its rules on hate speech - a major U-turn...

Facebook plans to announce on Friday that it will no longer give politicians a pass if they break its rules on hate speech - a major U-turn after years of criticism that the social network has been too deferential to powerful figures, particularly during the Trump presidency.

Facebook to end long-standing exceptions made by politicians



Facebook applied a test to political statements before the 2016 election, weighing the newsworthiness of content against its tendency to cause harm. But the company is doing the first part of that test and won't consider newsworthiness a factor for long, according to a person familiar with the thinking of the companies who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.


Facebook has no plans to end the exemption for messaging services. The move, first reported by The Verge, is part of a series of responses to the recommendations of Facebook regulators. The company needs to make its strike system more transparent to people who break its rules. In cases where an exception is made, Facebook must disclose it, the person said, but such decisions have been held back for years.

Facebook spokesman Jeff Gel man declined to comment. Face book's response is the first major test of whether non-government watchdogs can act as a watchdog for the social media giant. Former President Donald Trump was suspended from Facebook on January 6 after the company found that his posts called for violence and riots in the capital. An independent Facebook panel ruled that Facebook should reinstate Trump's account on its service.

But Facebook handed its decision - which it said would be enforced - over to a regulatory body to decide whether it made the right call. After four months of deliberation, the board returned the decision to Facebook, giving it six months to decide whether to ban Trump or reinstate him.

It also recommended that the company published a report on its role in the attacks on January 6 and make changes to its exemption from newsworthiness. The company has 30 days to respond to the board's recommendations.

The oversight panel ruled that Facebook was right to suspend Trump for a moment. However, the company did not provide a better justification for the indefinite suspension, pointing out that this was not part of its policy. The rationale must be "clear and transparent," the board said.    

The Washington Post and others reported that rioters used Facebook to organize. But Facebook executives have blamed other companies for the events.

In practice, the company appears to have given crate Blanche to politicians and leaders in many other cases. The Post reported last year that the exemption for intelligence agencies was introduced in response to Trump's angry remarks on Muslims at the start of his candidacy.

Facebook claims to be using the exception sparingly and has admitted to using it only six times. These six were all in the USA, but also political speeches in Hungary, Vietnam and Italy.     In 2019, for example, the..company will not apply its fact check to political ads, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. Facebook chose to add a generic label to most content, rather than banning it altogether. Early in his presidency, Trump flooded the platform with misinformation.

During the election, he propagated unproven theories of voter fraud, claiming that the election had been stolen. Facebook's response to the oversight panel will be seen as an important test of the ability of powerful social media companies to self-regulate. Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants face a wave of potential new regulations around the world on issues such as privacy and algorithmic transparency, as well as a major antitrust case in the United States.

The oversight body is seen as a legitimate check on their power, and experts say it could become a model for countries looking for ways to regulate social media companies and monitor content on their platforms when other companies are in a similar position. It could also make the need for regulation less urgent when solutions already exist, experts say.    

Under immense political pressure over the company's moderation practices, Zuckerberg unveiled the idea of an independent body to oversee the social network's controversial decisions in 2018. The idea was to rein in their power to criticize government officials, academics, and the public for allowing the spread of Russian disinformation, inflammatory political discourse, and hate speech.    

Facebook would fund the board through an independent trustee and select its members, giving it the power to make binding decisions about what content it wants to remove or keep. The panel could also make voluntary policy recommendations. Its members include a Nobel laureate, an expert on free speech, and a former Danish prime minister.    

Trump has built one of the most powerful and passionate online audiences in the world during his presidency. But researchers have shown that it was unable to gain the same level of online attention when taken off mainstream platforms.

He was suspended from YouTube, gaming platform Twitch and other platforms and banned from Twitter on January 6 for the same comments. Trump, in turn, used his own website to issue a statement before his team shut it down a week later.

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