In trying to avoid accusations of anti-conservative bias, Facebook has reportedly been bending the rules for high-profile Republicans. Sources told the Washington Post that Facebook has held off on punishing President Donald Trump’s family members and other conservative groups and personalities who repeatedly violate its rules against misinformation, even removing strikes in some cases. And it did so out of fear of the “backlash” that could ensue from enforcing these penalties.
Around the end of last year, Facebook pulled a repeat infraction claim against Donald Trump Jr. for posting misinformation on Instagram to avoid having to label him a repeat offender, two former Facebook employees told the outlet. This saved the president’s eldest son from incurring penalties such as reduced traffic, demotion in search results, and a temporary block on advertising. One former employee said other Trump family members have received similar preferential treatment over the past year, and that this was just one “among numerous strikes removed.”
Several pro-Trump organisations were repeatedly allowed to circulate claims that Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers judged as false without recourse. Facebook’s policies dictate that accounts that earn two strikes for posting “false information” within 90 days be given repeat offender status.
For example, one of the largest group supporting the president’s reelection bid, the political action committee America First Action, posted two videos within a four-day period that falsely claimed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is pushing to defund the police. Though Facebook slapped both videos with labels indicating they were false, the company’s own public archive showed that the super PAC didn’t appear to lose ad privileges, the Post reports. Engagement data from the Facebook-owned social media analysis tool CrowdTangle showed zero evidence that the PAC’s traffic or post distribution dipped either.
Even more worrying, in some cases Facebook failed to flag debunked posts at all when they came from conservative sources. Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh shared a bogus theory with his 2.3 million followers about how the nation’s chief infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, secretly owns half the patent for a covid-19 vaccine. Facebook didn’t apply a label to his post despite the fact that the company’s own fact-checkers debunked it, the Post reported. Another one of Limbaugh’s posts about a Biden conspiracy theory was similarly overlooked. Other conservative pages, including those of the right-wing news outlet the Gateway Pundit and conservative blogger Pamela Geller, also appeared to avoid penalties despite posting content that had been proven false by Facebook’s fact-checkers.
The Post spoke with several of Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners under the condition of anonymity for its exposé, and they seemed just as confused to see the company going easier on certain rule-breakers.
“I’m baffled by the policy,” the head of one such organisation told the outlet, particularly singling out the lack of recourse for America First Action despite its flagrant violations “We repeatedly flag offenders that nevertheless seem to prosper and continue to do ads.”
Facebook isn’t exactly denying these findings either, which I’m honestly not sure is more or less gross. Company spokeswoman Andrea Vallone didn’t dispute the report’s details about Donald Trump Jr. in an interview with the Post, noting that Facebook is “responsible for how we apply enforcement, and as a matter of diligence, we will not apply a penalty in rare cases when the rating was not appropriate or warranted under the program’s established guidelines.”
Vallone said that “many” of the pages the Post cited in its report “have been penalised for repeatedly sharing misinformation in the past three months.” However, she declined to comment on the status of any particular page, including America First Action, and didn’t specify the penalties any of these pages supposedly received.
Of course, all of this just goes to show what we already knew: that Facebook’s commitments to squashing misinformation are just lip service. When it comes to being an arbiter of truth, Facebook is first and foremost concerned about itself. So as long as bullshit continues to rake in those ad dollars, why silence the people spewing it, right?