Facebook alters policy protecting politicians engaging in harmful speech

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Erin Scott | Reuters

Facebook on Friday announced a major reversal to its content moderation policies, saying politicians’ posts will no longer be exempt from the company’s rules that prevent users from engaging in harmful speech.

The company also said Friday that former President Donald Trump will remain suspended from the platform for two years, effective from the initial Jan. 7 suspension date.

Specifically, Facebook said that it will no longer treat content that is posted by politicians as inherently of public interest or newsworthy. This means such posts will be moderated like that of any other user.

Facebook will still provide a newsworthiness exemption for content posted by politicians and other users in rare cases, the company said, but it will begin publicly publishing regular updates about the instances where it applies this exemption for the sake of transparency.

The announcement marks a 180-degree change for Facebook, which had previously vowed to uphold free speech and proclaimed that it should not be an arbiter of truth. Most notably in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. election, the company made the controversial decision to allow politicians to run ads on Facebook even if they contained misinformation.

When it comes to suspending accounts for violating Facebook’s community standards in ways that incite or celebrate violence, Facebook said it will consider the severity of a public figure’s violation, their influence over the public and the severity of the violence. These factors will be considered in determining how long their accounts are suspended, which could range from one month to two years. In extreme cases, Facebook will permanently disable the account, the company said.

The new policies come after Facebook’s independent Oversight Board in May decided to uphold the company’s decision to suspend Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. In its decision, however, the board noted that Facebook needed to reassess how it moderates the speech of political leaders and clearly outline those rules for the public.

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