Facebook has said that politicians are exempt from its third-party “fact-checking” program and claimed that the company’s attitude towards political speech on the platform is “grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression and respect for the democratic process.” However, despite Facebook’s statements, the company continues to fact-check and demote many posts from politicians.
In an update titled Facebook, Elections, and Political Speech, the company claimed that it doesn’t believe it’s appropriate for Facebook to “referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny,” adding:
“That’s why Facebook exempts politicians from our third-party fact-checking program. We have had this policy on the books for over a year now, posted publicly on our site under our eligibility guidelines, This means that we will not send organic content or ads from politicians to our third-party fact-checking partners for review.”
Based on this, it would be reasonable for politicians to assume that their posts won’t be fact-checked. However, Facebook adds a critical disclaimer to this supposed exemption for politicians:
“When a politician shares previously debunked content including links, videos, and photos, we plan to demote that content, display related information from fact-checkers, and reject its inclusion in advertisements.”
Essentially this means that if a politician creates an original post, it won’t be fact-checked. However, if a politician shares links, memes, photos, videos, or any other type of content that’s created by other people, their post could be fact-checked and censored on the platform.
Many politicians, including President Donald Trump, regularly share news stories, memes, and other types of content that have been created by others on their Facebook pages. However, recently, a series of questionable Facebook fact-checks have led to the censorship of links and jokes shared by conservative politicians.
For example, Facebook recently fact-checked and demoted jokes from the pro-Trump comedian Terence K. Williams. Williams’ videos have been shared by President Trump in the past. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also recently admitted that there “clearly was bias” in Facebook’s fact-check of the pro-life non-profit Live Action. Live Action’s content is regularly shared by politicians who support pro-life policies.
This announcement from Facebook is likely to result in many US politicians believing that they are now exempt from these types of questionable fact-checks and that they no longer have to worry about biased fact-checks suppressing their posts in the run-up to the 2020 US presidential election which is just over a year away.
However, with news, memes, and videos among the most popular types of shared content during election cycles, US politicians who share conservative content are likely more susceptible than ever to having their content demoted as the result of questionable or biased fact-checks.