Facebook changes the rules so erratically it’s a little dizzying to keep up with the relevant policies. On Wednesday, May 26, it announced stricter censorship for individuals who share too much “misinformation” on their pages – then relaxed its restrictions on posts that suggest COVID-19 originated from the Wuhan Lab in China. This is a company that employs fact-checkers who put warning labels on jokes and memes, labeling them fake news. So what does this tell the average user?
Social media platforms have struggled to control the narrative, using fact-checking systems to block, delete, and even ban those who go against their policies. Facebook has taken it a step further now, calling out regular individuals for being repeat offenders – you don’t have to be Donald Trump to earn that label anymore. In a blog post, the company announced:
“Today, we’re launching new ways to inform people if they’re interacting with content that’s been rated by a fact-checker as well as taking stronger action against people who repeatedly share misinformation on Facebook. Whether it’s false or misleading content about COVID-19 and vaccines, climate change, elections or other topics, we’re making sure fewer people see misinformation on our apps.”
The infamous fact-checkers will be responsible for rating posts, as has been the procedure since 2016. The idea is to give people “more information before they like a Page that has repeatedly shared content” that hasn’t been approved. Facebook users will get a popup warning before being able to visit such a page. The notice will also include the article the fact-checker used to “debunk” the post as well as a “prompt to share the article with [the user’s] followers.”
So, what is the punishment for repeat offenders? According to Facebook: “Starting today [May 26], we will reduce the distribution of all posts in News Feed from an individual’s Facebook account if they repeatedly share content that has been rated by one of our fact-checking partners. We already reduce a single post’s reach in News Feed if it has been debunked.”
So, it’s not a complete removal of the offending post. It’s more like getting kicked to the nosebleed seats at a concert. The company won’t delete the message, but they’ll sure make it difficult for anyone else to see.
The President Said So – It Must Be So
On the heels of cracking down on individuals, the tech giant backpedaled on its adamant refusal to allow posts that even hinted the coronavirus might have escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. Now that President Joe Biden and his administration have given the okay to investigate COVID’s origins, Facebook will allow its users to discuss what was described as a conspiracy theory mere days ago. Even though the previous president had said as much and had reportedly begun an inquiry into the virus’ starting point, the topic was taboo until now.
Facebook explained its reasoning for the sudden change of heart:
“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps.”
Republicans in Congress took the social media giant to task for its abrupt reversal. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted:
“The arrogance of @Facebook to decide where and how precisely covid originated, and who should be able to talk about it, is stunning. But sadly typical.”
In a statement to the Daily Mail, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said, “The more we learn, the clearer it is that Communist China played a role in killing millions of people. This is why Big Tech must never be the arbiter of truth.” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), a staunch Trump supporter, also offered his two cents, saying “This was another sorry attempt by Facebook to shut down discussions that didn’t fit its political narrative. Social media platforms should encourage open debate instead of blocking content that offends their political views.”
The comments were not just restricted to the U.S. British Conservative Member of Parliament Peter Bone told the Daily Mail:
“Their [Facebook’s] decisions are based on politics not on principle … The thing that Trump was saying is exactly the same as Biden is saying, but Trump was according to Facebook not allowed to say that. Whereas everyone loves Biden from Facebook therefore it must be right. It is one rule for one political view and another for another.”
- It is now okay for Facebook users to refer to COVID as man-made or say that it escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China.
- Individuals who repeatedly share posts that Facebook fact-checkers deem “misinformation” or “misleading” will have their posts essentially relegated to the bottom of the barrel.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.