In an attempt to correct the perception of a small but very vocal minority that claims Facebook’s silencing conservative voices on its platforms, the company’s reportedly swung too far in the opposite direction and essentially gave a free pass to conservative pages to spew their bullshit online.
According to leaked documents reviewed by NBC, Facebook relaxed its fact-checking rules for conservative news outlets and personalities, including Breitbart and former Fox News stooges Diamond and Silk, so that they wouldn’t be penalized for spreading misinformation. This report comes just a day after a Buzzfeed exposé detailing how a Facebook employee was allegedly fired after collecting evidence of this preferential treatment of right-wing pages.
Per its standards, Facebook issues strikes to pages that have repeatedly spread inaccurate or misleading information as determined by the company’s millions of fact-checking partners (news outlets, politicians, influencers, etc.). If an account receives two strikes in a 90-day period, it receives a “repeat offender” status and can be shadowbanned or even temporarily lose advertising privileges. Facebook employees work with fact-checking partners to triage these misinformation flags, with high-priority issues receiving an “escalation” tag that then pushes them on to company higher-ups for review.
According to an archive of these escalations with the last six months that was leaked to NBC, Facebook employees in the misinformation escalations team waived strikes issued to some conservative pages under direct oversight from senior leadership. Roughly two-thirds of the cases listed concerned conservative pages, including those of Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Gateway Pundit.
During the review process, workers expressed concern that cracking down on these rule violations would lead to negative publicity and fuel speculation about the platform’s supposed political bias. Two current employees and two former employees told NBC under the condition of anonymity that Facebook had become “hypersensitive” to conservative complaints and was being more lenient in an effort to avoid a possible backlash.
“This supposed goal of this process is to prevent embarrassing false positives against respectable content partners, but the data shows that this is instead being used primarily to shield conservative fake news from the consequences,” one former employee told the outlet.
Facebook did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. In an emailed statement to NBC, company spokesperson Andy Stone did not dispute the authenticity of the leaked documents and said that while Facebook relies on third-party fact-checks to flag inaccurate posts, the company directly manages “our internal systems for repeated offenders.”
“We apply additional system-wide penalties for multiple false ratings, including demonetization and the inability to advertise, unless we determine that one or more of those ratings does not warrant additional consequences,” he told the outlet.
As disturbing as it is that Facebook would knowingly allow misinformation on its platform so long as it’s coming from the right people, what’s even more disturbing is that it’s coddling conservatives even though they’ve yet to produce solid evidence proving Facebook’s supposed political bias in the first place. In reality, the platform is no stranger to the kind of hate-filled content that conservatives claim an increasingly “politically correct” culture is trying to stamp out.
More often than not, social media platforms have repeatedly said that accusations of anti-conservative censorship stem from them taking action because individuals violate their rules against harassment and misinformation, i.e. a post wasn’t taken down because it was right-leaning, it was taken down because it was total crap. Not one to be dissuaded by facts, though, President Donald Trump has continued to champion a federal investigation into these claims and has even floated the possibility of creating a White House commission focused on online bias and censorship.