Facebook’s top guns interfered with US politicians and celebrities posting whatever they wanted. This overrides the network’s high moral ground to curb misinformation, according to internal documents leaked by The Financial Times.
After being accused of bias by conservatives, employees claimed that Facebook allowed right-wingers to violate its own rules.
“In September 2020, just before the US presidential election was over, the author of an intern memo wrote that ‘director level employees’ had written internally that they would prefer that political considerations be formally excluded from the decision-making process.'” FT reported Monday.
Another internal note, dated December 2020, was reported by FT. An employee claimed that the company’s public policy team prevented posts from being taken down “when they see they could harm powerful politically actors”.
The author stated that in multiple cases, senior executives (sometimes Mark Zuckerberg) make the final decision about whether prominent posts violate a written policy.
A further example is from 2019, where Zuckerberg was allegedly involved in the decision to allow a clip that claimed that abortion is “never medically required”.
The moderator had removed the post and it was then reinstated.
These documents were part of a larger cache called the “Facebook Papers” and were revealed to US regulators. They were provided to Congress by Frances Hougen’s legal counsel in redacted form.
These papers were redacted by the US Congress and purchased by a consortium of media organizations.
Haugen posted a tweet announcing that she was looking forward meeting a British parliament joint committee Monday to discuss online safety rules.
Although Facebook did not respond to FT’s questions, Joe Osborne, a spokesperson for Facebook, stated that the “heart of these stories” is a false premise. While we are a business, and make profits, the notion that we do this at the expense or safety of others is not true. We’ve spent $13bn on staff and over 40,000 people to do one thing: Keep people safe on Facebook. An ex-Facebook executive said to the FT that Zuckerberg had always told his staff to strive for “unimpeachable neutrality.”
Three other ex-workers said that they witnessed “how Facebook applied its rules inconsistently and haphazardly, with special treatment of celebrities”.
An ex-member of the integrity team said that Facebook’s top executives care more about appearing impartial than being objective. Their efforts to improve the former often make matters worse. BuzzFeed first reported that Facebook had published a July 2020 memo saying it had not reduced the distribution of “political publisher” in advance of the election, but warned that this move could lead to “accusations or shadow-banning, and/or bias against certain political entities,” during the November vote.
Donald Trump, former US President, sued Facebook, Twitter, and Google in July, claiming they illegally silenced conservative voices. He also accused Facebook of bias.
Facebook intervened to censor Trump when he claimed Covid-19 was more lethal than flu. The December 2020 memo claimed that actions to remove “repeat offenders”, as FT reported, were often reversed due to “input from Public Policy”.
According to the employee, decisions were made to exempt “publishers” on grounds they were “sensitive” and likely to retaliate.
An employee who was involved in the efforts to curb hate speech on Facebook left a note accusing Facebook of giving special treatment Breitbart media outlets. Breitbart has been on Facebook’s high quality news tab since 2018.
The staffer stated that they make exceptions to their written policies and explicitly endorse them by including them in our core products as trusted partners.
One employee suggested the idea of an internal oversight board made up of employees from Facebook based around the world. This would help the company make its decisions.
Fidji Simo, then the head of Facebook app, replied that Facebook was working to create a small team for internal oversight.
One former employee of the integrity team said that it was so obvious that there is a conflict. Multiple negative stories are being reported on Facebook. According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook has an internal system called cross-check that was used sometimes to protect fat cats when they violated the platform’s rules via whitelisting.
The social media giant said that it is working to improve the system.
Separately, a whistleblower filed a US Securities and Exchange Commission complaint on Friday. This was first reported by the Washington Post and then reviewed by The FT. It claimed that Facebook’s public policies team would “over-index toward pleasing Trump and his administration”.