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Facebook Will Take Down Hate Speech from Politicians

Under pressure from Washington, civil rights groups, advertisers and others, Facebook is going to start moderating content more closes. 

Facebook has been catching heat for not taking down or labeling such content after Twitter put a fact check label on President Donald Trump's tweet about absentee ballots being election fraud and tweeting that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" at the height of the protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody. "Even if a politician or government official says it, if we determine that content may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote, we will take that content down," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a blog outlining some new content moderation and ad standards policies. 

Related: House Dems Say Online Disinformation Has Deadly Consequences 

The changes were billed as being in response to racial injustice and in preparation for a challenging election. 

He said many came from the civil rights community as well as work by Facebook's "civil rights auditors." 

Facebook two years ago banned content that misleads people about when and how they can vote, but it is tightening those polices by moving quickly to remove false information about polling conditions in the 72 hours leading up to election day. It will rely on state election officials to identify false information, as it has been relying on health officials to identify bogus COVID-19 info. 

Facebook said it would specifically ban claims that ICE is checking immigration papers at polling places, a tactic used to suppress voting, particularly among Hispanics, or other obvious efforts at intimidation. 

Related: OTI Won't Take Facebook Funding 

Facebook will continue to allow freer expression in posts than in paid ads, which squares with Constitutional protections, which are lesser for commercial speech. 

The social media site will now ban a wider range of inflammatory language in ads, including political ads. 

Facebook sometimes leaves up content it would otherwise take down because the fact that someone--like a politician--posted it is newsworthy. "But "there is no newsworthiness exemption to content that incites violence or suppresses voting," said Zuckerberg. "Even if a politician or government official says it, if we determine that content may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote, we will take that content down." 

He said politicians wouldn't get exceptions from any of the other changes, either.  

"We're continuing to review our policies, and we'll keep working with outside experts and civil rights organizations to adjust our approach as new risks emerge," said Zuckerberg. "I'm optimistic that we can make progress on public health and racial justice while maintaining our democratic traditions around free expression and voting. I'm committed to making sure Facebook is a force for good on this journey." 

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.