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

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Facebook reportedly exempted Trump's family and allies from its misinformation rules to avoid accusations of anti-conservative bias
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (left) and President Donald Trump.Reuters/Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • Facebook has repeatedly let President Donald Trump's family members and allies off the hook for breaking its policies, the Washington Post reports.
  • Current and former Facebook employees said the company held off taking action because it feared accusations of anti-conservative bias.
  • Two company sources told the Post that Facebook removed a strike from Donald Trump Jr's Instagram account, which if upheld could have resulted in penalties.
  • Facebook has been battling allegations of anti-conservative bias from Trump and Republican lawmakers.

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 Sunday.

Current and former Facebook employees told the Post the company had gone easy on certain accounts, including one belonging to Donald Trump Jr and another to America First Action, the biggest pro-Trump super PAC.

In one instance towards the end of 2019, the company removed a misinformation strike from Donald Trump Jr's Instagram account, two sources said.

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The paper did not specify which post was at issue, but if the strike had been upheld, Facebook could have imposed sanctions on the account such as reduced traffic and lower priority in search results.

One source said this was one of many strike removals for Trump's family members over the past year.

The Post also analyzed the Facebook page of America First Action, and found that although the 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.

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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 both Republican lawmakers and the President, but the accusations have ramped up ahead of Election Day.

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Sources told the Post these accusations have made Facebook anxious about applying its policies to conservative figures and pages. That anxiety has hindered the company's efforts to stop misinformation on its platform, they said.

One source said the company's public policy team recently suggested a system that would flag so-called "harmful" posts in such a way that it would ensure 50% of flagged posts 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 spokesperson said no such policy exists.

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When asked specifically about Donald Trump Jr's account, a Facebook spokesperson said: "[Facebook is] 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 time a report has surfaced about Facebook penalizing left-wing content to try to avoid accusations of anti-conservative bias. The Wall Street Journal reported in October that in 2017 Facebook changed its algorithm 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 spokesperson told Business Insider when contacted for comment about the Post's story.

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"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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