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Facebook to end moderation rule exemptions for politicians, reports say

The social media giant is currently mulling over what to do with the account of former President Donald Trump.
In this file photo dated Friday, April 23, the Facebook app is shown on a smart phone, in Surfside, USA.
In this file photo dated Friday, April 23, the Facebook app is shown on a smart phone, in Surfside, USA. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published Jun. 4, 2021|Updated Jun. 4, 2021

Facebook plans to end a contentious policy championed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg that exempted politicians from certain moderation rules on its site, according to several news reports.

The company’s rationale for that policy held that the speech of political leaders is inherently newsworthy and in the public interest even if it is offensive, bullying or otherwise controversial. The social media giant is currently mulling over what to do with the account of former President Donald Trump, which it “indefinitely” suspended Jan. 6, leaving it in Facebook limbo with its owners unable to post.

Related: Facebook board’s Trump decision could have wider impacts

The change in policy was first reported by the tech site The Verge and later confirmed by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Facebook has had a general “newsworthiness exemption” since 2016. But it garnered attention in 2019 when Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications, announced that speech from politicians will be treated as “newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.”

The newsworthiness exemption, he explained in a blog post at the time, meant that if “someone makes a statement or shares a post which breaks our community standards we will still allow it on our platform if we believe the public interest in seeing it outweighs the risk of harm.”

This hasn’t given politicians unlimited license, however. When Facebook suspended Trump in January, it cited “the risk of further incitement of violence” following the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as the reason. The company says it has never used the newsworthiness exemption for any of Trump’s posts.

Facebook declined to comment.

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