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Facebook relaxed misinformation rules for conservative outlets to stop bias accusations

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Source: iMore (Image credit: Source: iMore)

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.

52 Comments
  • Am I the only one who doesn't understand why Facebook feels the need to check the validity of people's claims on their platform?
  • I'm with you. No one made tech companies arbitrators of the "Truth". People have brains. When they read papers, listen to friends, or read social media they themselves are responsible for filtering what they see. Media companies like Twitter and Facebook are basically saying people are too stupid to understand the world and investigate for themselves. How demeaning. Moderation always has a bias of the moderators, which in the tech world are mostly left leaning (and often very left leaning) people. Therefore, there is an inherent bias in defining "Truth". The USA has the constitutional right to free speech so the government cannot force the population into compliance with what is the government's current "acceptable" viewpoint. Modern day town squares (social media companies), should provide the public the same freedoms the government has to. There have always been wacky people that tell lies. People know that and ignore those people or discern the useful facts from the rhetoric. We don't need nannying. Let's face it, you only have to turn on CNN or Fox News to see both spouting very distorted versions of the "Truth" with their own partisan agendas. Anyone who doesn't realize "their" preferred news source isn't manipulating them and twisting the truth in almost every news report needs to wake up and read multiple news sources daily. It is not healthy and is complete ignorant of people to watch only one side of an argument all the time as that just ends in you having half the picture and being told what is right or wrong (a made up "truth") rather than discerning it from a more complete viewpoint. I challenge each of you to step out of your safe zone and hear the other sides voice daily. Perhaps check out https://www.allsides.com
  • Beautifully said, realwarder, with one minor point of disagreement. I totally agree with you on how they SHOULD handle their posts, but I don't think we want to FORCE Facebook and Twitter to change their editorial approach any more than I don't want them applying their biased fact checking. As private companies, I think they have a right their leftist opinions and that it would be hypocritical of us to require otherwise. However, they currently benefit from legal protections against being sued based on the content of their posts, under the assumption that they exert no editorial control. By such heavily demonstrated bias in their content rules, I would say they should no longer benefit from those legal protections. Either better require true freedom in their forums or waive their legal protection.
  • Section 230 should've been repealed a long time ago.
  • I appreciate your sentiment, but your recommendation is biased too. The Democrat mayor of Portland Ted Wheeler, who surrendered his city to Marxists and other criminals, is now condemning the rioters "attempting to commit murder." How does your "From the Center" source Associated Press misrepresent his statement? "Portland protesters cause mayhem again, police officer hurt." That's a lie that aids and abets their domestic terrorism.
  • BS again from you.
  • The problem is that many people take everything they read on social media as Gospel and not only believe every word but repost/retweet it as well. They may have brains but they sure don't use them a lot of the time. Just look at all the likes a scam post gets for a winning a holiday or car just by liking it
  • Exactly.
    Who are they to gag freedom of speech and decide what is fact and what is not!
    The Nazis did exactly the same thing 90 years ago!
    Fakebook
  • The problem is what they call "fact checking." Much of what they (and Twitter even more so) flag as false, is a matter of opinion, not a position of facts. And those authorized to make those decisions are almost exclusively left-leaning. The parallel would be if they selected Breitbart to fact check information from MSNBC and The Huffington Post, and Breitbart let their opinions influence their assessments. Those on the left would rightly declare that unfair.
    You can have two (or many more) rational people reach very different conclusions based on the same set of factual data. Even at FED board meetings, for example, there are intelligent debates over what the reams of economic data indicate. The "fact checkers" these social media platforms use don't seem to differentiate between issues where reasonable people can disagree and actual, indisputable facts. If it can be disputed by a rational person without the use of outright lies, it should not be flagged as "false."
    I don't really have a problem with actual fact checking, but flagging something as misinformation because you don't agree with an interpretation of facts is just enforcing an editorial opinion. And the legal safe harbor that protects Facebook, Twitter, Google, and others from liability for the content of posts by their users requires them not to exert any editorial control.
  • if an opinion states something as a fact when it is not then that is still misinformation. if it's my opinion that the world is flat then the tool that I'm using to voice that opinion can be entitled to point out that i don't know what I'm talking about.
  • Stanleywinston, I generally agree with that, but that's not the issue with these social media posts. How literally would you take that? For example, if I say, "I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse," should that be flagged as clearly false? We'd probably agree no (or the vast majority of all posts on Facebook would be subject to flagging for hyperbole). What if I write that I believe mercury in vaccines is what makes them dangerous (I don't believe that), should I not be able to express that? What about posting that I think solar activity has a greater effect on the temperature of earth than CO2 levels? Or what if I'm a doctor and have treated thousands of patients with hydroxychloroquine and had them recover, that is more factual than most posts because I would be a first-hand witness (this is an actual example of something they banned as misinformation). That wouldn't necessarily make my CONCLUSIONS right, because a counterargument would be that 98% of all COVID-19 victims get better anyway, so it's just anecdotal, but that doesn't make the original claim false or dangerous. To go with your example, what if I explain that I think the evidence the Earth is round is faulty, and try to lay out a logical fact-based argument on the limitations of current round-Earth misinformation? That challenges the round-Earthers to provide evidence and that's how knowledge advances, through debate and challenges. If they're right, that should be easy for them to do. The Earth being round is probably the easiest of these to prove beyond any reasonable doubt, but all of them could be debated. There's a guy I respect as brilliant and an engineer with a strong physics background who is absolutely certain that we never had anyone land on the moon. He is confident that it's a hoax and is able to provide substantial evidence to back up his conclusion. I think he's wrong, but I can't PROVE that he's wrong. That makes it a perfect topic to debate on the open Internet. Let the people debate and present facts in support of their position, and then let people reading be skeptical and judge for themselves.
  • come on mate, I don't think we are in danger of banning sayings (eat a horse). the other things would be harmful if people started genuinely believing in them. Anti vax stuff has an impact on society. If you demand the right to reading lies then I'm sure there are other places to go. if there are people that are consistently lying then it is those people that we should be getting annoyed with, not the people that point out they are lying. the moon landing is a good example. it's been proved, just because someone did some physics and watched a couple of videos on youtube does not mean that we all have to keep debunking them it's a waste of our time
  • Stanleywinston, I disagree with the premise. I tried to present examples that show it's a blurry line between what people can agree is false but just figures of speech and what is true to some and false to others. There is no one TRUTH, other than hard data measurements. Everything else is opinion and interpretation of data. That "moon landing was fake" guy worked on spacecraft that went into orbit. He didn't get his position from watching YouTube videos -- he's an authority on the subject and believes that political forces in the PR fight with the USSR caused us to exagerate our capabilitiies for the "greater good" of beating the Soviets. Again, he didn't convince me, but he has facts and hard data to support his position. It's a fair and reasonable case to be made. The problem is that there is no such thing as "The Truth" and no such thing as a "Neutral Arbitor". Therefore, best to let the good, bad, and uninformed post and let the debates help people identify which is which.
  • Another pair of examples, "The sky is red" probably sounds obviously false. But, in the right context, say sunrise, it's common. The "fact checkers" don't distinguish or consider context. The news around Trump's tweet and Facebook post being removed for quoting the doctor who reported curing patients with hydroxychloroquine is a great example of this. What was reported were undisputed facts (to my knowledge, no one has presented any evidence that she did not successfully treat her patients as she claims). It was pure opinion that those facts should not have been reported. It is my opinion (acknowledged as such) that the only reason they removed those is because of anti-Trump sentiment. The best that could be said about them here is that they used a scientific principle: medical data per FDA standards does not show a statistically significant connection between dosing with hydroxychloroquine and recovery from COVID-19, to conclude that the doctor's conclusions are incorrect. I would agree that her conclusions were probably wrong (98% of patients get better anyway, so it's easy to understand why a treating physician could incorrectly associate the drug with the recovery). But so what? They are still facts that she treated her patients and they got better. You can't use opinions on the conclusions (even if most of us would agree with them) as a basis for claiming that facts are wrong.
  • Ok. It's easy too hot to argue about whether up is really up or if you are upside down then it could be down. That doctor was about the covid treatment was factually wrong and easily provable. They weren't wrong to say they treated patience with a medicine and they got better. They were wrong to say that they got better because of the medicine. Easily provable. Pointless to argue it. The only study that showed a connection was because the patients also got anti inflamintory steroids. Correlation is not causation. Its basic. And the reason that that doctor should be pulled up for misrepresenting the facts is that it is dangerous to people who fall for it. And this is an example of why it should be censored. People convince themselves that the liar isn't lying and start arguing with the person that is calling them a liar. It is a waste of time
  • Also I think you may have simply misunderstood what a fact is. Your spaceman mate didn't have facts that showed man didn't land on the moon. He had bits of information that he could convince someone that didn't understand it that man didn't land on the moon. Which is annoying because now there's a bunch of people running around boring the rest of us saying their mate can prove man didny actually go to the moon
  • Guessing you cheered for Big Brother in 1984
  • I think you've misunderstood the premise of the book. reading it would probably help with this. To give you a hand...it wasn't suggesting that we should allow a right wing government supported by the most popular and widely watched and read medias to spread falsehoods unchecked. in fact it was pretty much saying what would happen if we did
  • Not really.
    It's called freedom of speech whether that be right or wrong because they are NOT the abattoirs of truth, no one has given then that power!
  • "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." Did you miss this part???
  • Andrew G1, I don't have a problem with fact checking purely on facts. I don't think it's necessary or valuable, because we should all be skeptical and debate these things with others pointing out the false claim, giving the original posters an opportunity to defend their claim and better explain it (and if they can't/don't, that's a good sign that they were wrong or lying), but I also don't have a problem with pure FACT checking. My problem is all the opinion drivers behind the censorship and that it will inevitably be worse than allowing the incorrect data in the first place. I used the hydroxychloroquine example here in another post. A doctor reported facts that she treated patients and they got better. There is no excuse for banning that post or flagging it. She may well be wrong to believe that's because hydroxychloroquine cured them (98% of her patients would have recovered anyway), but that doesn't change that her statements were undisputed facts. That means Twitter and Facebook used their opinions on the conclusions to say that she couldn't state her first-hand experience. A similar case even more recently was striking Trump's statements that children are largely immune to COVID-19. That's incomplete, because it appears to be limited to children 10 and under (or older if you allow for the typical political spin where "immune" could be interpreted more generally to mean "don't get fatal cases"), but in any case it's not a false statement. By censoring these, they are putting the opinions of their chosen fact-checkers, who appear to have a strong left-leaning bias (in this case, it was a member of Kamala Harris' campaign team who made the call), in place of people who are better informed than they.
  • Let's look at that.
    1) It was million, not billion. This article would fail a "Fact Check" and be removed. 2) Congress did allocate in the bill $25 million: "The House would get $25 million to fund the chamber's remote work and to purchase supplies for employees to make working from home more efficient. Money is also available to pay restaurant workers and vendors for food and service contracts and for employees and costs associated with the House Child Care Center." So yes, actually the bill did provide $25 million additional money to House employees. But it was to cover COVID-19 related expenses rather than a more conventionally understood "raise". Of course we don't know how this money was distributed... it could be that each member did get a lump payment each... I haven't investigated that, but the truth here is a much greyer area than most people realize.
  • realwarder, thanks for the details. Those are especially important in light of Andrew G1's use of that as an example of a successful case of fact checking. Another good example of how it's better for people with differing opinions to debate these topics than for someone or some group to be authorized to decide to block content or remove content.
  • They allow someone like Jerry Nadler -- who claims that there is no Marxist rioting in America -- and Iran's supreme leader -- who constantly incites genocide against Israel and the US -- free reign. But Conservatives? Censored and banned. Twitter/Google/Facebook meddle in American elections, and we get Windows Central carrying the Democrats' water.
  • I call BS on your post. It fails basic fact-checking. There indeed is no "marxist rioting": in the US. SO yeah, if you keep posting BS like that, you get called out on it. That's not censorship. That's called reality.
  • News outlets have to adhere to certain rules Facebook is basically a news Outlet so it should follow the same rules.
    And the spread of misinformation is real as the Muslim population in India is finding out the hard way as Hindus n India spread propaganda and lies to chase the Muslims out or to justify killing them.
  • Debating issues is the best way to expose flaws in the arguments or data of one side or the other (or both). We all have our opinions and issues that we prioritize, so allowing any one person or group to regulate the speech of others is the greater danger. People will lie or exaggerate. That's bad. But it's not as bad as regulating their speech, because the regulators can't be impartial. It's impossible.
  • What part of "Democrats tried to give Congress members a $25 billion raise as part of a COVID-19 stimulus package" did you think adds to the discussion? You and I know people read this stuff and believe it. Millions of people think Hillary Clinton runs a pedophile ring out of a Maryland pizza parlor. People think the pandemic was planned. People think the US is doing better than other countries with the pandemic. Misinformation matters. It works. It swings elections. That's why there's so much of it. It's not a coincidence so much misinformation is brought to us by organized campaigns by Republicans and the Russian government.
  • I've never heard that "Hillary Clinton runs a pedophile ring" :-) To be clear, I don't believe she does. But your post here is EXACTLY WHY "FACT CHECKING" is NOT NEEDED. Much better for us to debate these issues, disprove them with counter facts and logic as peers, than it is to identify some god-like arbiter to determine what is true and what is not. Be skeptical. Assume most of what you see online is nonsense. "Fact checking" undermines skepticism and, worse, it can't be done w/o bias. In these cases, the fact checkers appear to all be left-leaning sources. How would you feel if Breitbart were the fact checker? You'd rightly think it's not fair, especially if they start flagging not just straight facts, but other things too that get into matters of opinion. It's easy to find conflicting sources even on core facts in many cases. When you have a fact checker with a bias, they use these different sources as a justification for banning opinions with which they disagree.
  • Her husband Bill earned a lot of frequent-flier miles and complimentary accommodations on Epstein's plane and island.
  • On your point, "people think the US is doing better than other countries with the pandemic," that is highly dependent on what facets of the problem you look at. For some, we are doing much better than other countries (e.g., testing now and fatality rate among those who have tested positive). For others, we're doing worse (e.g., testing at the beginning and fatality rate among the population as a whole). Great example of how "fact checking" can be manipulated to mislead people.
  • USA Today has this: "The posts appear to be referencing language in the law which supports House 'salaries and expenses' as well as other operations. [...] "There is no indication in the statutory language that the spending will support the salaries of members of the House of Representatives, and staff has confirmed the funds will be used for other purposes." Politicians say that they want money for "salaries and expenses"; when they're called on it, they say it will be used for "other purposes." And you believe them. How credulous can you be?
  • Imma guess you're a white male in America. It's easy for you to fight for something when it costs you nothing.
  • Freedom of speech does not require fact checking nor monitoring. If this makes it to the Supreme Court it is likely struck down because Facebook is a quasi news agency. Unless it plans to fact check every post for both liberals and conservatives it cannot show impartiality.
  • I strongly agree with you on free speech, but I think as private companies that Facebook, or any news organization, is allowed to have a bias (their own free speech). The real issue is that they are shielded from liability under Internet safe harbor laws, preventing them from being sued for posts by their users. I would argue that by exerting editorial control (the bias) the very law that expressly protects them no longer applies. If they could be sued for user posts, that would quickly and radically change their behavior.
  • Why is this on Windows Central? Do we need another Verge?
  • When you're only using liberal sources for fact checking. And how the extremes of both sides can twist the same event into two different news stories. This would be so much easier for everyone if Facebook trusted their users to fact check information themselves.
  • Based on the number of blatantly false things I see reposted, I don't trust my own friends to fact check things, let a lone complete strangers. Facebook's algorithm makes people's newsfeed an echo chamber that amplifies false or inaccurate posts as long as they're likely to draw engagement from like minded people. It's great for Facebook because they get to sell more ads the longer someone is online, it's terrible for people because it radicalizes existing views.
  • I concede this is a likely consequence. I don't think that's a sufficient reason to add what would always be biased "fact checkers," but I agree that it's hard to avoid greater polarization with the rise of Twitter, Facebook, and all the other social media where people can share news and opinions without actually looking the person with whom they're disagreeing in the eye (including here, I suppose, to a lesser extent). In my personal observations, the part that most amilpfies the extreme positions is the fear people have to disagree, even in a friendly way. That leaves many of the extreme statements unchallenged. If you post something liberal on a Trump supporter's page or vice versa, the reaction is rarely pleasant. So here's an idea: Facebook and Twitter should encourage friendly debate and disagreement. We all have friends and family who disagree with us. Why not invite them to express those contrary opinions? Help us be a single country, even though we disagree in some areas. That's something they could do. That wouldn't hurt their ad reveneue and it would elevate the discussions and help unite us. Unforutanetly, it seems the leftists have such a tight grip on their editorial control, where those who disagree are shouted down and blocked from speaking (or fired from The New York Times), that the very concept of intelligent debate is alien to them.
  • Since liberalism is no longer liberal, only tyrants and slaves embrace it. Leftism withers in free and fair debate.
  • Don't blame the fact checkers because one side lies more. That's not bias. Fact checkers actually post sources for their information that can be checked, unlike the conservative commenters.
  • noirsoft, I suspect we have very different conclusions on which "side" lies more (I think each of us has unique views, so there are probably about 300 million "sides" in the US). Most of what we all say is summary and conclusion, which leaves room for intepretation. For example, just to be pedantic, I could show how your statement right there would fail a basic "fact" check: You said conservative comenters don't post sources. I could obviously show cases where they did. I realize you didn't mean that literally. But are the fact checkers giving others that same benefit of the doubt? No, not on the "side" to which you are referring. Point is, it's trivally easy to show someone is wrong, if that's the only goal. And in these cases of "fact checking" that appears to be the goal in order to score political points. I would say it should be the other way around, meaning before you can accuse someone of lying, there must be no way the statement could be defended as true. Lying is a word like racism in that there should be a heavy burden of proof on the accuser before leveling such a harsh charge.
  • Just came back to this article, didn't expect so many comments haha.
    What I do not fully understand is what Facebook is trying to be. Are they a place to connect people and where people can share opinions? In that case, why bother fact-checking? The people can best do that themselves through (hopefully) calm and rational debate. Only honest debate in persuit of the truth (and not in persuit of being right) will lead to the truth. This is something Facebook can participate in (by for example posting a message saying 'we believe this content to be false'), but to cencor or stop the debate by preventing opinions from even being shared is only detrimental to this process (in my mind). Or, alternatively, are they trying to be a news outlet like CNN or NYT? In that case, they reserve the right to edit their content however they see fit (private corporation with its own rules). If that is the case, then I don't understand why they position themselves as the former option. I just hope that tech companies in general stop censoring and allow the rational debate to happen in the first place. Only then, I believe, can we find the truth
  • Leftists "striking" Conservative content? That's typical Democrat censorship, not Conservative "misinformation" and "bias."
  • Removing false stories and blatant lies is not censorship. It's called being responsible.
  • So many salty right wingers here
  • You'd be salty too if your opinion, even if based in fact, but from the 'wrong' studies was being censored because companies 'fact check' from heavily biased sources.
  • Once that happens feel free to complain. Then remember Facebook is a private company and can do wtf it wants.
    Facebook is allowing right wing nonsense to spread. The issue is, in reality, that right wing nonsense gets a pass despite being a collection of lies and misrepresentations. This story just corroborates what's obvious. Right wingers get baby coddling and then whine they don't get enough of it.
  • Yeah right. If conservative opinions were actually based in fact, they would not be misinformation. And just because one side lies more and gets called out on it, does not make the fact checkers biased.
  • noirsoft, I would acknowledge that many (not all) of my positions are in sync with traditionally conservative views -- freedom, capitalism, reduced regulation, important to have a strong military to ensure peace, etc. They are all reasoned from first principles and historic or quantitative data. I'll happily debate any of them, confident I can prove their validity. That doesn't mean that other positions are wrong though -- much in the world of politics comes down to prioritization. I think nearly all Americans want all other Americans to do well, be safe, and be healthy (I'm sure there are a few hate-filled exceptions, but not many). But our priorities and beliefs how best to achieve those ends differ. I prioritize freedom over safety, which leads me to very different conclusions from someone else who prioritizes safety or health over freedom. I believe I can show with logic why my priorities are "fairer" and better serve the lives of all people, but that starts to get into the realm of philosophy, not facts.
  • This just lays bare the impossibility of trying to do any sort of content moderation at scale well. Some people are going to complain about it no matter what and there are pros and cons to every approach (including doing nothing at all).
  • So, basically democracy cannot work because mass opinion is too easy malleable and pliant and people will either fall to confirmation bias or preference falsification? So, we need 'good' people to moderate and censor to keep them in line, and it so happens the majority of those euphemistically titled content moderators are left-leaning? Journalism as a profession is in freefall, there is a real attempt at retrenching the idea of credentialed, verified or 'expert' sources but they are just one among many competing narratives hence the outright resentment from much of that class (educated, well-connected and yet economically no better off than a plumber or tradesman). Often they just resort to inflammatory opinion pieces (it has certainly worked for the NYT bottom line) and create a mystifying moralist jargon to police and gatekeep who is allowed to have an opinion considered legitimate.