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Facebook will label posts from politicians that break its rules

Mark Zuckerberg announced the new policy following an advertiser boycott
Karissa Bell, @karissabe
June 26, 2020
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Founder and CEO of US online social media and social networking service Facebook Mark Zuckerberg reacts upon his arrival for a meeting with European Commission vice-president in charge for Values and Transparency, in Brussels, on February 17, 2020. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP) (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)
KENZO TRIBOUILLARD via Getty Images

Facebook will add warnings to posts from politicians that break its rules. Mark Zuckerberg announced the policy change following weeks of criticism and threats of an advertiser boycott. The company won’t remove the posts, he said, as it still considers them “newsworthy,” but it will alert users that they violate its policies.

The update echoes a similar move from Twitter, which has recently began adding labels to tweets from Donald Trump and others. Zuckerberg had previously criticized Twitter for the decision, only to say that he would consider bringing such labels to Facebook a week later.

“We will soon start labeling some of the content we leave up because it is deemed newsworthy, so people can know when this is the case,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We'll allow people to share this content to condemn it, just like we do with other problematic content, because this is an important part of how we discuss what's acceptable in our society -- but we'll add a prompt to tell people that the content they're sharing may violate our policies.”

It’s not clear exactly what these labels will look like, when Facebook will start adding them to posts, or how strictly Facebook will interpret the new rules. Zuckerberg said the company would label “some of the content we leave up.” Zuckerberg didn’t name Trump in his remarks, but the company has faced growing pressure to act on the president’s more inflammatory posts.

The policy change comes after a number of high-profile advertisers have said they would pull ads from the social network as part of a boycott arranged by civil rights groups. The campaign, organized by the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP, Color of Change and others, urged large corporations to pause advertising on the social network for the month of July. 

“The campaign is a response to Facebook’s long history of allowing racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform,” the organizers wrote in a letter announcing the campaign earlier this month. “The campaign will organize corporate and public pressure to demand Facebook stop generating ad revenue from hateful content, provide more support to people who are targets of racism and hate, and to increase safety for private groups on the platform, among other measures.”

Unilever is the largest company to join the boycott so far. The company behind brands like Dove and Lipton spent $42 million on Facebook ads in 2019, CNN reported. Verizon (which owns Engadget but has no editorial control over us) also announced it would pause Facebook advertising after the ADL posted a letter noting a Verizon ad had appeared next to QAnon content. Ben and Jerrys, REI, Patagonia and Eddie Bauer have also said they would participate.

Zuckerberg didn’t address the advertiser boycott directly. A day earlier, The Wall Street Journal reported that a Facebook executive told advertisers “we do not make policy changes tied to revenue pressure.”

Importantly, Facebook isn’t changing the policy that exempts politicians from fact-fact checking, including in political ads. Zuckerberg did say, however, the company would tighten its rules regarding hate speech in paid ads. “We want to do more to prohibit the kind of divisive and inflammatory language that has been used to sow discord,” he wrote.

“We're expanding our ads policy to prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others. We're also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them.”

It’s unclear what, if any, impact Facebook’s policy changes will have on the advertiser boycott. The boycott’s organizers have already criticized the updates as not going far enough.

“Mark Zuckerberg’s response today was not enough,” the ADL wrote on Twitter. Similarly, Color of Change President Rashad Robinson called Zuckerberg’s remarks, which were live streamed on his Facebook page, “11 minutes of wasted opportunity to commit to change.”

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