Facebook chief orders review of its content policies

Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook will review its content policies relating to threats of state use of force, in the first sign of a climbdown after the chief executive faced a backlash from employees for declining to take action on controversial posts by President Donald Trump. 

In a post on his Facebook page on Friday, Mr Zuckerberg, chief executive, committed to reviewing the social media group’s policies “allowing discussion and threats of state use of force”, as well around voter suppression. 

He added the company had also started exploring potential options for violating content “aside from the binary leave-it-up or take-it-down decisions”, such as labelling or adding warnings to posts. However, he cautioned that such an approach “has a risk of leading us to editorialise on content we don’t like even if it doesn’t violate our policies”. 

The announcement comes as Mr Zuckerberg has faced intense — and very public — pressure from staff and critics after he refused to take action on a post from Mr Trump in which the US president used the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, in reference to the continuing protests over the death of George Floyd

Mr Zuckerberg argued that the post did not violate Facebook’s policies around inciting violence, and that private companies should not be the “arbiter of truth”. 

But the decision prompted dozens of Facebook employees to take to Twitter in criticism of Mr Zuckerberg, complaining that he appeared to be kowtowing to the US president and that the stance was tone deaf. Some staged virtual walkouts, while others threatened to resign. 

By contrast, smaller social media rival Twitter has added a warning label in front of an identical post by Mr Trump on its platform, as well as labelling two other tweets by the president related to postal voting as potentially misleading. 

Mr Zuckerberg on Friday also pledged to build “products to advance racial justice”, and a voter hub for users to get “authoritative information” around voting. He added that the company would review the transparency of its decision-making process around challenging content, as well as whether to “change anything structurally to make sure the right groups and voices are at the table” during such a process. 

“While we will continue to stand for giving everyone a voice and erring on the side of free expression in these difficult decisions — even when it’s speech we strongly and viscerally disagree with — I’m committed to making sure we also fight for voter engagement and racial justice too,” Mr Zuckerberg said, adding the caveat that the company “may not come up with changes we want to make” following the reviews.

The chief executive faced a similar — albeit lesser — backlash last year for his decision not to fact check political advertising, and promised to explore limiting the “microtargeting” of such adverts to small, targeted groups of users to assuage critics’ concerns.

In the end, however, Facebook opted to continue offering microtargeting and instead expanded transparency around political adverts.

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