Facebook reportedly exempted Trump's family and allies from its misinformation rules to avoid accusations of anti-conservative bias

Isobel Asher Hamilton
  • Facebook has repeatedly let President Donald Trump's family members and allies off the hook for breaking its policies, The Washington Post reported.

  • Current and former Facebook employees told The Post that the company held off on taking action because it feared accusations of anti-conservative bias.

  • Two former employees told The Post that Facebook last year removed a strike against Donald Trump Jr.'s Instagram account that could have resulted in penalties.

  • Facebook has been battling allegations of anti-conservative bias from Trump and Republican lawmakers.

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Mark Zuckerberg Donald Trump
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and President Donald Trump. Reuters/Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Facebook held off applying its misinformation rules to key allies of President Donald Trump because it feared accusations of anti-conservative bias, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

Current and former Facebook employees told The Post that the company had gone easy on certain accounts, including those of Donald Trump Jr. and America First Action, the biggest pro-Trump super PAC.

Toward the end of 2019, the company removed a misinformation strike against Trump Jr.'s Instagram account, two former employees told The Post.

The paper did not specify which post was at issue but said that if the strike had been upheld, Facebook could have imposed sanctions on the account, such as reducing its traffic and lowering it in search results.

One former employee told The Post that this was one of many strike removals for Trump's family members over the past year.

The Post also found that although America First Action's page violated Facebook's rules on misinformation and had been fact-checked multiple times, traffic had not dipped, as would ordinarily happen for accounts that broke rules.

The group was still able to advertise, the paper said, suggesting Facebook had taken no action against it.

Read more: Facebook is in desperate need of some DC likes. These are the 14 most powerful policy figures at the company who will go head to head with Democrats and Republicans.

Facebook has long faced accusations of anti-conservative bias from Republican lawmakers and the president, but the accusations have ramped up ahead of Election Day.

Sources told The Post that these accusations had made Facebook anxious about applying its policies to conservative figures and pages and that the anxiety had hindered the company's efforts to stop misinformation on its platform.

The Post described a person familiar with internal deliberations as saying the company's public policy team recently suggested a system that would flag harmful posts to ensure that 50% were conservative and 50% were liberal.

"Too often we've made politically expedient exceptions at the expense of our own rules, which we generally believe to be fair," the source said. A Facebook representative told The Post that no such policy exists.

When asked about Trump Jr.'s account, the representative told The Post that Facebook was "responsible for how we apply enforcement, and as a matter of diligence, we will not apply a penalty in rare cases when the rating was not appropriate or warranted under the program's established guidelines."

This isn't the first report about Facebook penalizing left-wing content to try to avoid accusations of anti-conservative bias. The Wall Street Journal reported in October that Facebook changed its algorithm in 2017 to reduce traffic to left-leaning news sites including Mother Jones.

"We defer to third-party fact-checkers on the rating that a piece of content receives. When a fact checker applies a rating, we apply a label and demotion. But we are responsible for how we manage our internal systems for repeat offenders," a Facebook representative told Business Insider when contacted for comment about The Post's story.

"We apply additional system wide penalties for multiple false ratings, including demonetization and the inability to advertise, unless we determine that one or more of those ratings does not warrant additional consequences. To this day, we remain the only company that partners with over 80 fact-checking organizations to apply fact-checks to millions of pieces of content," they added.

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