So why has the social network appeared to have made an exception for Donald Trump, who recently posted a video saying Muslims should be barred from entering the United States? Facebook has removed statements similar to Trump’s proposal in the past, according to employees. And the decision to let Trump's post remain public was made by the highest levels of management.
Publicly, the social network defines its policy against hate speech as "content that directly attacks people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, or gender identity, or serious disabilities or diseases." And posts that contain such material may be removed.
Facebook’s internal hate speech guidelines, used by its team of content moderators who decide whether to remove reported content, are more prescriptive. An excerpt of that document, obtained by Fast Company, specifically restricts "calling for violence, exclusion, or segregation for a protected category," "degrading generalizations," and "dismissing an entire protected category" in Facebook's definition of hate speech.
"We remove speech that targets people on the basis of a long-standing trait that shapes their identity and ties them to a category that has been persistently discriminated against, oppressed, or exploited," the document says, under a heading labeled "spirit of the policy."
On Monday, Donald Trump posted a video on his Facebook wall in which he said he was "calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on."
That post was flagged by users, including the activist filmmaker Michael Moore, who publicly called on his Facebook followers to file complaints.
To test the policy, Fast Company used a dummy account to post an update that included the same language used by Trump in his original video. It read, "I'm with Trump, it's time for a 'total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.'" A few hours after flagging the post as inappropriate, it was removed by Facebook with the explanation that it violated Community Standards.
A spokesperson for Facebook, in a statement to Fast Company, said: "When we review reports of content that may violate our policies, we take context into consideration. That context can include the value of political discourse. Many people are voicing opinions about this particular content and it has become an important part of the conversation around who the next U.S. president will be. For those reasons, we are carefully reviewing each report and surrounding context relating to this content on a case by case basis."
On Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed Muslim users in a post on his profile. "As the leader of Facebook I want you to know that you are always welcome here and that we will fight to protect your rights and create a peaceful and safe environment for you," he wrote.
UPDATE: On November 12, Facebook removed another post on a Fast Company employee's personal account that shared Trump's original video, with the comment: "I totally agree with Donald Trump's call for banning Muslims. Keep them out!" About 24 hours after it was first posted on Friday morning, it was removed with an explanation that it violated its Community Standards.