Facebook has repeatedly claimed that it isn't responsible for vetting the veracity of content on its platform, while also trumpeting the third-party fact-checkers to which it contracts that job. A new report from BuzzFeed has found that the social network is misleading us all on both fronts. Even when Facebook's independent fact-checkers flag posts from conservative pages, Facebook routinely intervenes to remove warnings from those pages, scrub strikes against them, and thus not only allows falsehoods to proliferate but also prevents repeat offenders' pages from being shut down.
According to the report, fact-checkers working with Facebook frequently find that the company doesn't punish pages even after they receive two-strikes, which would normally trigger a page to lose advertising privileges and potentially be deleted altogether. Employees reportedly intervened on the behalf of conservative page PragerU, reexamining a judgment based on "partner sensitivity" and the amount of money the organization has spent on ads. PragerU has shared videos making false and harmful claims about COVID-19.
Facebook said it enlisted independent fact-checkers specifically because it didn't want to be the one making content moderation decisions. And yet that's exactly what it's doing.
More meaningless apologies — Every time Facebook is the subject of fresh attacks regarding its record on content moderation, it responds with some new initiative and trots out the typical line that it's "always working to improve." Recently it announced it was launching an independent oversight board to review its content moderation decisions. But at the end of the day, no decision the board makes is legally binding — it all comes back to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has a controlling stake in the company and has both defended Holocaust deniers and attempted to appease Trump.
Zuckerberg and his company also continue to cave to conservatives' cries of censorship even though their posts are consistently the most popular on the site every day of the week.
Facebook has no incentive to care — Facebook won't dump dangerous content. There's no incentive for Zuckerberg to make tough calls that will anger conservatives as long as the value of Facebook's stock keeps climbing. Facebook will continue to make announcements about its supposed efforts, but it's just damage control. If it's once again instrumental in shaping an election outcome and eroding democracy, so be it. It doesn't owe shareholders legitimate content, only users. And users aren't going to keep it rich.
Who cares about removing posts from Russian misinformation campaigns if politicians and conservative pages in the U.S. are allowed to post the same type of false content without repercussions? Even boycotts from advertisers over Facebook's willingness to host racist and demonstrably false content haven't made it change its tune. The only way to get it to care about the truth is to make the punishment for lying something that hurts shareholders. And doing that is going to take more than one antitrust hearing.