Facebook Pressured Over Fact-Checking and Hate Speech

After Facebook vice president Nick Clegg said that the social media company would not fact-check politicians’ speech and allow them more latitude with using offensive speech, the company’s former head of content standards Dave Willner called the move “foolish, wrong, and a significant betrayal of the original democratizing ideals of Facebook.” He noted that hate speech is not acceptable from anyone. Facebook will also permit opinion pieces or satires found to be inaccurate by fact-checkers to remain online.

Wired reports that Clegg, a former U.K. politician, had stated that, “we do not submit speech by politicians to our independent fact-checkers, and we generally allow it on the platform even when it would otherwise breach our normal content rules.”

Willner, referring to research from the Dangerous Speech Project, “argues that allowing hate speech — whether it’s from a politician or a private citizen white supremacist — can create a dangerous atmosphere.” He also noted that, “Facebook’s exception now makes politicians a privileged class, enjoying rights denied to everyone else on the platform.”

“Restricting the speech of idiot 14-year-old trolls while allowing the President to say the same thing isn’t virtue,” he wrote. “It’s cowardice.”

Willner stated that, under this ruling, Facebook “will now allow people like former Klansman David Duke to violate the rules that Facebook deems essential to protect the well-being of its users.” “It sure as hell doesn’t make the world more open and connected,” he wrote.

Also open to question is who Facebook will qualify as a politician; spokespeople said that a prime minister will have more weight than a councilperson. “In other words, Facebook will make judgment calls.”

The Wall Street Journal reports, “Facebook will allow publishers of information found to be false by outside fact-checkers to appeal to the company … [but] posts that Facebook deems to be either opinion or satire won’t be labeled as false even if they contain information the fact-checkers determined was inaccurate.”

PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan, who is also a “member of the board of the International Fact-Checking Network, which accredits Facebook’s fact-checking partners,” noted that “publishers of false statements have a history of arguing that they are opinions.”

In the Philippines, the news outlet Rappler, which fact-checks Facebook content there, wrote that, “purveyors of fake news will now be able to escape accountability by simply labeling their stories as satire, no matter the intention, how badly written they are, how many clues they use to over-rationalize, or even if they disregard every rule of satire.”

The impetus for the heated discussion on fact-checking came out of an incident in which Facebook distributed a video from an anti-abortion group claiming that abortion is never medically necessary. Although an approved fact-checking partner labeled this claim false, the group in question alleged bias and accused Facebook of suppressing debate. The International Fact-Checking Network stood by the fact-checking partner, but Facebook hasn’t yet restored the false designation to the video.