Facebook Will No Longer Offer Politicians Special Treatment

Facebook revealed that former President Donald Trump’s suspension from its platform would last for at least two years. Trump will be eligible for reinstatement on the social network in January 2023, before the next U.S. presidential election. At that time, experts will decide “whether the risk to public safety has receded.” Further violations would trigger “rapidly escalating sanctions” and potentially a permanent suspension. The company also announced that it would end its policy of treating the posts of world leaders and other politicians differently than those of other Facebook users.

The New York Times reports that Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg noted “the gravity of the circumstances that led to Trump’s suspension … which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols.”

With regard to political speech, Facebook and other social media platforms did not “rein in his inflammatory language as [Trump] attacked enemies and spread misinformation … [but] changed their stance after Trump’s use of social media on the day of the Capitol attack.”

The new policy also has implications for such world leaders as Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Clegg noted that, “we know today’s decision will be criticized by many people on opposing sides of the political divide — but our job is to make a decision in as proportionate, fair and transparent a way as possible.”

Permanently banned on Twitter, Trump will “be muted from the mainstream platforms during at least the 2022 midterm election cycle.” Facebook stated that it would “monitor external factors like instances of violence” to determine if the two-year ban should be elongated. Trump started a blog about a month ago but “shut it down this week after it gained little traction.”

India, Turkey and Egypt have “threatened to take action against Facebook if it acts against the interests of the ruling parties.” Law professor David Kaye said Facebook’s scrutiny will “be painful for leaders who aren’t used to [it].” Russia has also “ramped up its demands for Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove online content that it deems illegal and to restore pro-Kremlin material that had been blocked.”

The Verge reports that Facebook’s Oversight Board, an independent group funded by the social media platform, “critiqued the special treatment it gives politicians.” Two sources added that, “Facebook also plans to shed light on the secretive system of strikes it gives accounts for breaking its content rules … [including] letting users know when they’ve received a strike for violating its rules that could lead to suspension.”

The company will “begin disclosing when it uses a special newsworthiness exemption to keep up content from politicians and others that would otherwise violate its rules.”

In 2019, a group of Facebook employees asked that Facebook’s list of politicians’ accounts not subject to content moderation and fact-checking rules be dissolved. With its new policy, Facebook still does not plan to subject the posts of politicians to independent fact checkers but will enforce rules such as bullying that its moderators apply to other users.

Nigeria Bans Twitter After President’s Tweet Is Deleted, The New York Times, 6/5/21
Trump’s Blog Page Shuts Down a Month After Launch, Reuters, 6/2/21
A Short History of Politicians and Their Love for Technology, Governing, 6/7/21