Facebook had a policy where, for the integrity of democracy and political discourse, political leaders would be exempt from hate speech policies on the massive social media platform. No more. This leaves some to wonder if Facebook intends to curate, or censor, political speech on their platform.
The controversy over politicians having free voice on the platform was, of course, ignited by former President Donald Trump. Trump was known to post views that were deemed controversial by mainstream media and their social media cohorts. Because he was a figure so incredibly derided by left-leaning Americans, pretty much anything he said was construed as somehow problematic.
Facebook is expected to announce on Friday that politicians will not longer have a free pass to break the company's rules. The policy stated that a politician's speech was newsworthy, in that the public had to know what their elected leaders were saying. But now, when an exception is made on those grounds, that decision will be public as well. The company will also offer more transparency when rule violations result in strikes against users, according to The Verge.
It was shortly after the Capitol riot on January 6 that Facebook, and Twitter, pulled Trump's access to their platforms. Facebook's action triggered a review by their Oversight Board, which then uphold the ban—sort of—saying that Facebook needed to review its policies and take another look at the decision to ban Trump because it was not actually clear under which terms the platform instituted the ban.
In their review, they said that "Trump's posts during the Capitol riot severely violated Facebook's rules and encouraged and legitimized violence." Trump was later brought up on impeachment charges in the US House of Representatives shortly before departing office, though the Senate refused to take up the charges.
"Facebook has had a newsworthiness exemption since 2016. This means that if someone makes a statement or shares a post which breaks our community standards we will still allow it on our platform if we believe the public interest in seeing it outweighs the risk of harm.
"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.
"When we make a determination as to newsworthiness, we evaluate the public interest value of the piece of speech against the risk of harm. When balancing these interests, we take a number of factors into consideration, including country-specific circumstances, like whether there is an election underway or the country is at war; the nature of the speech, including whether it relates to governance or politics; and the political structure of the country, including whether the country has a free press.
"In evaluating the risk of harm, we will consider the severity of the harm. Content that has the potential to incite violence, for example, may pose a safety risk that outweighs the public interest value. Each of these evaluations will be holistic and comprehensive in nature, and will account for international human rights standards."
Facebook Oversight Board member Michael McConnell told host Fox News Sunday in May that Facebook is "arbitrary" and "inconsistent" in the application of its own guidelines.
McConnell, a former federal judge and one of the four co-chairs of the international Oversight Board for Facebook, made it clear that the initial ban on Trump's account was acceptable, in his opinion. But he took issue with the invocation of a permanent ban.
"Mr. Trump is subject to the same rules on Facebook as everyone else, and the Oversight Board held that this was in fact a violation and thus Facebook was justified in taking them down."
"What we did say, though, was that they were not justified in taking him down indefinitely, that they did not provide any reasons for that, that is not a provision in their rules. That was wrong."
"What we are trying to do is bring some of the most important principles of the First Amendment, of free expression law globally, into this operation. Facebook exercises too much power. They are arbitrary. They are inconsistent. And it is the job of the Oversight Board to try to bring some discipline to that process."
"We gave them a certain amount of time to get their house in order. They needed some time because their rules are a shambles. They are not transparent. They are unclear. They are internally inconsistent. So we made a series of recommendations about how to make their rules clearer and more consistent."