Facebook relaxed misinformation rules for conservative outlets to stop bias accusations

Mark Zuckerberg in front of the Facebook logo
Mark Zuckerberg in front of the Facebook logo (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • A new report says Facebook relaxed rules about misinformation for conservative pages.
  • News outlets and personalities were allowed to spread misinformation and had strikes removed.
  • Employees say this was done to stop negative publicity and complaints about bias.

A new NBC News report says that Facebook relaxed misinformation policies and let pages spread fake news in order to avoid accusations of anti-conservative bias.

Facebook has allowed conservative news outlets and personalities to repeatedly spread false information without facing any of the company's stated penalties, according to leaked materials reviewed by NBC News.

The report says that "according to internal discussions in the last six months", Facebook relaxed rules for conservative pages including " Breitbart, former Fox News personalities Diamond and Silk, the nonprofit media outlet PragerU and the pundit Charlie Kirk", not penalizing them for violating Facebook rules about misinformation.

The report further states that Facebook escalated more than 30 queries about misinformation since February, deleting strikes as a result:

The list and descriptions of the escalations, leaked to NBC News, showed that Facebook employees in the misinformation escalations team, with direct oversight from company leadership, deleted strikes during the review process that were issued to some conservative partners for posting misinformation over the last six months. The discussions of the reviews showed that Facebook employees were worried that complaints about Facebook's fact-checking could go public and fuel allegations that the social network was biased against conservatives.

The internal discussions are backed up by two former and two current Facebook employees, who anonymously told NBC that "they believed the company had become hypersensitive to conservative complaints, in some cases making special allowances for conservative pages to avoid negative publicity."

Two-thirds of escalations included conservative pages such as Breitbart, Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, and Gateway Pundit. There were also escalations (one each) for CNN, CBS, Yahoo, and the WHO.

A Facebook spokesperson "did not dispute the authenticity of the leaked materials" but said it didn't paint the full picture. One specific instance notes a Diamond and Silk post falsely accusing Democrats of trying to give Congress members a $25 billion raise as part of a COVID-19 stimulus package:

Diamond and Silk had not yet complained to Facebook about the fact check, but the employee was sounding the alarm because the "partner is extremely sensitive and has not hesitated going public about their concerns around alleged conservative bias on Facebook."Since it was the account's second misinformation strike in 90 days, according to the leaked internal posts, the page was placed into "repeat offender" status.

The rating was appealed and downgraded, and the account had its "repeat offender" status removed. A "policy/leadership" employee at Facebook further stepped in and told teams to remove both strikes from the account. (It was Diamond and Silk's second such strike in 90 days)

The issue seems to have stoked a raging war within Facebook, as employees question why the company is trying to appease conservative outlets, even after research found no such bias:

One employee wrote a post on 19 July, first reported by BuzzFeed News on Thursday, summarizing the list of misinformation escalations found in the task management system and arguing that the company was pandering to conservative politicians.The post, a copy of which NBC News has reviewed, also compared Mark Zuckerberg to President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The employee wrote on an internal message board:

"Just like all the robber barons and slavers and plunderers who came before you, you are spending a fortune you didn't build. No amount of charity can ever balance out the poverty, war and environmental damage enabled by your support of Donald Trump"

The post was removed, the list of escalations was made private, and the employee fired.

You can read the full report here.

Stephen Warwick