A new report from NBC News shows that Facebook employees gave conservative pages a pass for sharing misinformation, flouting its own rules. The news comes months after reports that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was hosting off-the-record dinners with conservative journalists in attempts to ameliorate concerns that his platform is biased against them.
Citing leaked documents, NBC’s Olivia Solon reports how misinformation on Facebook’s platform is first flagged by partners and at times escalated to senior leadership. When an outlet posts misinformation that has been verified as such by fact-checkers, it counts as a strike against them. When an outlet repeatedly posts misinformation that violates the platform’s rules, the page’s reach on the platform is limited, and it can lose the ability to advertise.
Solon writes that since February, there have been more than 30 instances where posts featuring misinformation were raised to senior leadership. Over that period, Facebook employees who received those escalations deleted potential strikes against conservative pages. There were concerns that limiting these accounts would make the platform look as if it were showing preference for liberal media.
Some of the accounts mentioned in the story include former Fox News hosts Diamond and Silk (aka Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson), non-profit PragerU, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Breitbart. Solon also notes that escalations were not just over concerns about public relations scandals, but also worries over a loss of advertising:
This claim was fact-checked by one of Facebook’s independent fact-checking partners, Climate Feedback, as false and meant that the PragerU page had “repeat offender” status and would potentially be banned from advertising. A Facebook employee escalated the issue because of “partner sensitivity” and mentioned within that the repeat offender status was “especially worrisome due to PragerU having 500 active ads on our platform,” according to the discussion contained within the task management system and leaked to NBC News.
The social network has been growing its fact-checking partnerships to better combat misinformation on its site. It now says it has 70 partners. Facebook continues to face claims of bias from conservatives, even though there is scant evidence that such a bias exists. This week, both Twitter and Facebook removed a video wherein President Donald Trump suggested children were immune to COVID-19. That move has been criticized by conservatives and held up as proof of a bias, even though the president’s claim is false.