Facebook to label all rule-breaking posts

The policy changes come during a growing ad boycott campaign, called “Stop Hate for Profit”

Facebook Founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook said Friday that it will flag all “newsworthy” posts from politicians that break its rules, including those from President Donald Trump. Previously, CEO Mark Zuckerberg had refused to take action against Trump posts suggesting that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud, saying that people deserved to hear unfiltered statements from political leaders. Twitter, by contrast, immediately slapped a “get the facts” label on them.

Until Friday, Trump’s posts with identical wording to those labeled on Twitter remained untouched on Facebook, sparking criticism from Trump’s opponents as well as current and former Facebook employees. Company's decision not to act on inflammatory posts by the US president and other figures prompted the European company behind brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Dove to announce it would boycott Facebook ads through the end of the year over the amount of hate speech and divisive rhetoric on its platform. 

“We have decided that starting now through at least the end of the year, we will not run brand advertising in social media newsfeed platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the US,” Unilever said. “Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society.”

Later in the day, Japanese carmaker Honda Motor Co Ltd’s US subsidiary and Coca-Cola also announced they joined the boycott, with the latter saying that it would suspend its ads for at least 30 days. As a result Facebook's stock dropped more than 8%, erasing roughly $50bn from its market valuation.

Now, Facebook is all but certain to face off with the president the next time he posts something the company deems to be violating its rules.

“The policies we’re implementing today are designed to address the reality of the challenges our country is facing and how they’re showing up across our community,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page announcing the changes.

“There are no exceptions for politicians in any of the policies I’m announcing here today,” Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg added in his announcement.

Zuckerberg said the social network is taking additional steps to counter election-related misinformation. In particular, the social network will begin adding new labels to all posts about voting that will direct users to authoritative information from state and local election officials.

Facebook is also banning false claims intended to discourage voting, such as stories about federal agents checking legal status at polling places. The company also said it is increasing its enforcement capacity to remove false claims about local polling conditions in the 72 hours before the US election.

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media, said the changes are a “reminder of how powerful Facebook may be in terms of spreading disinformation during the upcoming election.” He said the voting labels will depend on how good Facebook’s artificial intelligence is at identifying posts to label.

“If every post that mentions voting links, people will start ignoring those links. If they’re targeted to posts that say things like ‘Police will be checking warrants and unpaid traffic tickets at polls’ - a classic voter suppression disinformation tactic - and clearly mark posts as disinformation, they might be useful,” he said.

Additionally, Facebook would ban ads that claim people from groups based on race, religion, sexual orientation or immigration status are a threat to physical safety or health. The policy changes come during a growing ad boycott campaign, called “Stop Hate for Profit,” that was started by several US civil rights groups after the death of George Floyd, to pressure the company to act on hate speech and misinformation.

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