Biden Campaign Attacks Facebook For Its Policies Protecting Trump’s Inflammatory Comments

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TOPLINE

Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon wrote a letter to Facebook Tuesday raising concerns about President Donald Trump’s posts on the platform, after a Washington Post investigation found that multiple Facebook policies—particularly concerning offensive speech from political figures—and its algorithm change were borne out of the company taking steps to “accommodate” Trump and the GOP.

KEY FACTS

In the letter to Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg, O’Malley Dillon expressed concern for the “considerable confusion” around what Facebook is doing to prevent the “abuse of its platform to suppress the vote or incite violence,” specifically citing the Post investigation and the company’s recent announcement that it will take additional steps to prevent misinformation around voting.

O’Malley Dillon specifically requested that Facebook remove Trump’s recent posts that spread misinformation about mail-in voting in light of its new announcement, and questioned the company’s decision to label “newsworthy” posts that violate its guidelines, which the Biden campaign worries “will attract more attention to a post that would be barred from your platform were it made by anyone else.”

The Washington Post investigation found that Facebook’s policies surrounding misinformation and offensive speech have often been crafted as a way to allow Trump’s comments on its platform; Trump’s 2015 video calling for a U.S. ban against Muslims caused the company to rule that “newsworthy political discourse would be taken into account when making decisions about whether posts violated community guidelines”—a policy that was not publicly acknowledged until October 2016 and was never formally linked to Trump.

Facebook advisers in Washington also reportedly talked Zuckerberg out of publicly condemning Trump’s US-Mexico border wall in Spring 2016 because they believed it “could look like choosing sides,” a decision with ramifications for how the company dealt with inflammatory content posted by populist leaders around the world.

The Post reported that Facebook deputies contacted the White House urging them to “tweak” or delete Trump’s recent controversial post about “looting” and “shooting” rather than removing the post, which O’Malley Dillon said suggests the platform could institute “a backroom exception” for posts from the president that would otherwise be flagged for violating Facebook guidelines.

Facebook vice president of global policy Joel Kaplan and others in Washington reportedly successfully opposed shutting down accounts that security engineers demonstrated had spread false information about the 2016 election because doing so would “disproportionately impact conservatives; the social media network “shut down far fewer pages than were originally proposed” when creating its policy on misinformation.

Kaplan reportedly raised concerns that Facebook’s retooled algorithm to help limit misinformation would disproportionately hurt conservative-leaning publishers—because more of their content violates Facebook’s policies—and successfully pushed for changes to the algorithm to make it more “evenhanded in its impact.”

The news of that “evenhanded” algorithm, O’Malley Dillon wrote, sparks new fears about the spread of “hateful content” on Facebook, and the campaign manager questioned “whether your platform’s algorithm should continue to amplify that material to the attention of tens of millions of people because it is divisive and inflammatory.”

Crucial Quote

“We believe that it is important to know whether Facebook will apply its policies impartially and transparently. If a post violates Facebook’s policies, then it should remove the post,” O’Malley Dillon wrote. “If Facebook is making no exceptions for politicians engaged in false statements about voter suppression or incitement to violence, then it should make no exceptions among those politicians for Donald Trump. And it should not be giving special consideration to ‘right-leaning publishers’ if such publishers are ‘pushing more content that [violates] Facebook policies.’”

Chief Critic

Facebook disputed aspects of how the Post characterized its policy-making process and its ties to Trump, as well as pointed out that Zuckerberg “opposed Trump when his Muslim immigration ban went into effect.” Facebook spokesman Tucker Bounds told the Post that the company’s official “newsworthiness” policy announced in 2016 came in reaction to content moderators removing a photo of a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam War, rather than being undertaken in reaction to Trump. “Our goal was to recognize the essential public benefit of preserving content that in other contexts wouldn’t be allowed,” Bounds told the Post.

Key Background

The public outcry over Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” comment has sparked a broader reckoning over how Facebook handles offensive speech and misinformation. A growing number of high-profile companies have pulled their advertising from Facebook as part of a “Stop Hate For Profit” campaign, which Reuters reports is now set to expand worldwide. While Zuckerberg announced Friday that Facebook will now label newsworthy posts that violate its policies, the announcement has not slowed the movement against Facebook, with a third of Facebook’s top advertisers now likely to participate in the advertising boycott.

Further Reading

Zuckerberg once wanted to sanction Trump. Then Facebook wrote rules that accommodated him. (Washington Post)

Biden Campaign’s Letter to Facebook (Washington Post)

In Reversal, Zuckerberg Says Facebook Will Label Newsworthy Posts That Violate Its Rules (Forbes)

Starbucks, Verizon—And All The Other Companies Boycotting Facebook (Forbes)

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