Facebook will allow politicians to post fake news because they are ‘newsworthy’

Amidst Facebook renewed commitment to fighting misinformation and the proliferation of Facebook on its platform, the San-Francisco social media giant announced that they would start to allow politicians to post contents without fact-checking and even if the content itself violates their set of community standards. Facebook justification: what politicians post are newsworthy.

Facebook justifies this move as part of their commitment to free expression and that it is aimed to prevent external interference in what is otherwise an organic discussion that is taking place in its social media network. Talking to the Atlantic Festival in Washington DC, Tuesday, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg said that the decision to let politicians post whatever they want is “grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression and respect for the democratic process, as well as the fact that in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is.”

Clegg argues that Facebook has since had a newsworthiness exception to their fact-checking standards. The exception lies on the idea that if someone makes a statement or shares a post which breaks its community standards, Facebook will still allow it on its platform if they believe the public interest in seeing it outweighs the risk of harm. The newsworthiness clause has been taking effect since 2016.

Now, Clegg said that Facebook would treat the posts coming from politicians as “newsworthy content,” and thus, the newsworthy exception applies. They clarified, however, that for contents that are run through ads, Facebook will subject them to their community standards and advertising policies.

“Today, I announced that from now on, we would 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,” Clegg said in the blog post.

Clegg said that Facebook would consider different factors in arbitrating whether a certain politician post is deemed “newsworthy” and the public seeing it is a matter of public interest vis-a-vis the harms it poses. For one, Facebook will determine newsworthiness on country-specific circumstances like whether there is a coming election or when the country is at war. Other factors that affect this determination are 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.

On the other hand, Clegg said that the severity of harm will always be considered by Facebook when making such determination.

“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,” he added.

As the 2020 election looms, the move of Facebook appears to be contrary to their earlier expressions of commitment to fight fake news and misinformation in the company. Similarly, the announcement comes a few weeks after Facebook was fined with a record-breaking penalty settlement by the Federal Trade Commission for its role in the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook became the center of controversy when the UK-based PR firm was able to illegally obtain user data from Facebook which was used by the firm to manipulate the organic conversation in the social networking site and to influence the results of the 2016 elections.

“It is no secret that Facebook made mistakes in 2016 and that Russia tried to use Facebook to interfere with the election by spreading division and misinformation. But we’ve learned the lessons of 2016. Facebook has spent the three years since building its defenses to stop that happening again,” Clegg said in a speech during the Atlantic Festival.

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