Facebook: messages of incitement by world leaders might lead to suspension of accounts  

This is a significant change of policy for the company that declared two years ago that speech from politicians is inherently of public interest and therefore should be published. Over the weekend, Facebook announced that ex-President Trump's account will be suspended until at least 2023

Photo by Eliot Blondet/ABACAPRESS.COM via REUTERS

Far-reaching policy changes at Facebook. As part of its decision to suspend the account of former U.S. President Donald Trump until at least January 2023, the company announced that it is changing its overall policy regarding the way in which it treats posts by world leaders that violate the platform's terms of use.  

Trump was suspended from Facebook immediately after the deadly rioting on Capitol Hill on January 6 of this year, after he was accused of encouraging it using misinformation on social networks. In addition, he was permanently banned from Twitter. On Friday, Facebook's Oversight Board announced that the suspension will be lifted two years after it was imposed, but only if the company assesses that the ex-president's presence on the platform does not pose a risk to public safety. 

"Facebook's ruling is an insult to the record-setting 75M people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election," Trump said in a statement. "Next time I'm in the White House there will be no more dinners, at his request, with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. It will be all business!" 

But Trump's suspension is only part of the overall policy change of the social platform that the Oversight Board decided upon. "We are removing the presumption we announced in 2019 that speech from politicians is inherently of public interest," Facebook wrote in a document that it released on Friday. From now on, the company will consider removing the content of politicians based on the same criteria it uses for the general public. Reuters reported that a spokesperson for the company confirmed that politicians' posts will remain exempt from third-party fact checking.     

In the 20-page document based on the recommendations of the board, Facebook announced that it will fully implement 15 of the 19 recommendations. Among them are quick action on posts made by influential users that pose a high probability of imminent harm; prioritization of safety over freedom of expression; suspension of the accounts of high government officials, such as heads of state, if their posts repeatedly pose a risk of harm; and support by experts with linguistic and regional political expertise for assessment of speech by influential users. 

An additional recommendation that Facebook said it would partially adopt is that the company "should review its potential role in the election fraud narrative that sparked violence in the United States on January 6, 2021 and report on its findings." The company said it regularly reviews its policies in response to real world events, and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement related to the rioting. The company also said it recently expanded its research to understand the influence that Facebook and Instagram have on presidential elections, including by forming partnerships with outside academics to study the issue.   

Facebook's Oversight Board is an international body consisting of independent representatives that was formed in 2019 based on the lessons learned from the Cambridge Analytica affair. Its purpose is to make binding and non-binding decisions regarding controversial content on Facebook and Instagram. The board currently has 20 members (there is a plan to expand it to 40) who come from countries such as the U.S., Britain, Denmark, Australia, Pakistan and Yemen. There is also an Israeli representative, attorney Emi Palmor, former director-general of the Ministry of Justice.    

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