A new whistleblower reportedly claimed Facebook exempted right-wing outlet Breitbart from certain rules because it didn't want to 'start a fight with Steve Bannon'

  • Facebook "whitelisted" Breitbart to avoid angering Republicans, a new whistleblower told The Washington Post.

  • When an employee questioned the move, an exec reportedly said "do you want to start a fight with Steve Bannon?"

  • Facebook has long been ensnared in a political war over how it moderates users and content.

Another whistleblower has come forward with claims against Facebook, according to The Washington Post.

The anonymous former employee told the outlet that Facebook's Public Policy team - helmed by the company's now-vice president of global public policy, Joel Kaplan - defended "whitelisting" the right-wing news outlet Breitbart, run at the time by former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon.

"Whitelisting" refers to exempting certain elite, high-profile figures online from rules that apply to ordinary users. When Facebook defended "whitelisting" Brietbart, an employee questioned the move, the whistleblower told The Post.

trump bannon
Then-President Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. Getty

Kaplan answered, "Do you want to start a fight with Steve Bannon?" according to the whistleblower, as The Post reported.

The whistleblower is also behind an anonymous affidavit to the Securities Exchange Commission, though their name is redacted, the Post reported. The move is similar to the actions of Frances Haugen, who earlier this year shared documents with the Wall Street Journal and testified before a Congressional committee.

The affidavit alleges Facebook officials regularly deprioritized stamping out misinformation, hate speech, and other content to stay in favor of former President Donald Trump and his supporters, the Post reported. Another reason cited was concern that Facebook's user growth could take a hit.

A Facebook spokesperson denied the firm ever exempted any publisher from its rules and criticized the Washington Post's reporting.

"This is beneath the Washington Post, which during the last five years would only report stories after deep reporting with corroborating sources," they said. "There has never been a whitelist that exempts publishers, including Breitbart, from Facebook's rules against misinformation."

A system known internally as XCheck, acknowledged by the company last month, allows hundreds of thousands of politicians, celebrities, and other individuals who are "newsworthy," "influential," or "PR risky" to be exempt from certain rules, the Journal reported in September. Facebook has said it's trying to eliminate the system.

Many conservatives have condemned Facebook and other platforms for censoring them and favoring liberal views, even as right-wing content flourishes online. The company is aware of scrutiny from both sides of the aisle, but especially from the right.

The company tweaked its algorithm in 2017 but found that the change could slam right-wing publishers, a feat that could have angered Republicans in power during Trump's presidency. To offset the dip, Facebook crushed traffic to progressive news sites like Mother Jones, the publication reported in October 2020.

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