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“Mark Changed The Rules”: How Facebook Went Easy On Alex Jones And Other Right-Wing Figures

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It’s difficult not to see Facebook as a serious problem whose root cause is Mark Zuckerberg’s shallowness and immaturity coupled with arrogance and power. Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman report in Buzzfeed News:

In April 2019, Facebook was preparing to ban one of the internet’s most notorious spreaders of misinformation and hate, Infowars founder Alex Jones. Then CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally intervened.

Jones had gained infamy for claiming that the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre was a “giant hoax,” and that the teenage survivors of the 2018 Parkland shooting were “crisis actors.” But Facebook had found that he was also relentlessly spreading hate against various groups, including Muslims and trans people. That behavior qualified him for expulsion from the social network under the company’s policies for “dangerous individuals and organizations,” which required Facebook to also remove any content that expressed “praise or support” for them.

But Zuckerberg didn’t consider the Infowars founder to be a hate figure, according to a person familiar with the decision, so he overruled his own internal experts and opened a gaping loophole: Facebook would permanently ban Jones and his company — but would not touch posts of praise and support for them from other Facebook users. This meant that Jones’ legions of followers could continue to share his lies across the world’s largest social network.

“Mark personally didn’t like the punishment, so he changed the rules,” a former policy employee told BuzzFeed News, noting that the original rule had already been in use and represented the product of untold hours of work between multiple teams and experts.

“That was the first time I experienced having to create a new category of policy to fit what Zuckerberg wanted. It’s somewhat demoralizing when we have established a policy and it’s gone through rigorous cycles. Like, what the fuck is that for?” said a second former policy employee who, like the first, asked not to be named so they could speak about internal matters.

“Mark called for a more nuanced policy and enforcement strategy,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said of the Alex Jones decision, which also affected the bans of other extremist figures.

Zuckerberg’s “more nuanced policy” set off a cascading effect, the two former employees said, which delayed the company’s efforts to remove right wing militant organizations such as the Oath Keepers, which were involved the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. It is also a case study in Facebook’s willingness to change its rules to placate America’s right wing and avoid political backlash.

Internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and interviews with 14 current and former employees show how the company’s policy team — guided by Joel Kaplan, the vice president of global public policy, and Zuckerberg’s whims — has exerted outsize influence while obstructing content moderation decisions, stymieing product rollouts, and intervening on behalf of popular conservative figures who have violated Facebook’s rules.

In December, a former core data scientist wrote a memo titled, “Political Influences on Content Policy.” Seen by BuzzFeed News, the memo stated that Kaplan’s policy team “regularly protects powerful constituencies” and listed several examples, including: removing penalties for misinformation from right-wing pages, blunting attempts to improve content quality in News Feed, and briefly blocking a proposal to stop recommending political groups ahead of the US election.

Since the November vote, at least six Facebook employees have resigned with farewell posts that have called out leadership’s failures to heed its own experts on misinformation and hate speech. Four departing employees explicitly cited the policy organization as an impediment to their work and called for a reorganization so that the public policy team, which oversees lobbying and government relations, and the content policy team, which sets and enforces the platform’s rules, would not both report to Kaplan.

Facebook declined to make Kaplan or other executives available for an interview. Stone, the company spokesperson, dismissed concerns about the vice president’s influence.

“Recycling the same warmed over conspiracy theories about the influence of one person at Facebook doesn’t make them true,” he said. “The reality is big decisions at Facebook are made with input from people across different teams who have different perspectives and expertise in different areas. To suggest otherwise is absurd.”

An integrity researcher who worked on Facebook’s efforts to protect the democratic process and rein in radicalization said the company caused direct harm to users by rejecting product changes due to concerns of political backlash.

“Out of fears over potential public and policy stakeholder responses, we are knowingly exposing users to risks of integrity,” they wrote in an internal note seen by BuzzFeed News. They quit in August.

Those most affected by Jones’ rhetoric have taken notice, too. Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was the youngest victim of the Sandy Hook shooting, called the revelation that Zuckerberg weakened penalties facing the Infowars founder “disheartening, but not surprising.” He said the company had made a promise to do better in dealing with hate and hoaxes following a 2018 letter from HONR Network, his organization for survivors of mass casualty events. Yet Facebook continues to fail to remove harmful content.

“At some point,” Pozner told BuzzFeed News, “Zuckerberg has to be held responsible for his role in allowing his platform to be weaponized and for ensuring that the ludicrous and the dangerous are given equal importance as the factual.”

“Different Views On Different Things”

Kaplan’s close relationship with Zuckerberg has led the CEO to weigh politics more heavily when making high-profile content policy enforcement decisions, current and former employees said. Kaplan’s efforts to court the Trump White House over the past four years — from his widely publicized support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to his interventions on behalf of right-wing influencers in Facebook policy decisions — have also made him a target for civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers.

In June 2020, three Democratic senators asked in a letter what role Kaplan played “in Facebook’s decision to shut down and de-prioritize internal efforts to contain extremist and hyperpolarizing activity.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren called him out for overseeing a lobbying effort that spends millions of dollars to influence politicians. With a new presidential administration in place and a spate of ongoing antitrust lawsuits, Zuckerberg must now grapple with the fact that his top political adviser may no longer be a Washington, DC asset but a potential liability.

“I think that everybody in DC hates Facebook. They have burned every bridge,” said Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project and a former member of Joe Biden’s presidential transition team. Democrats are incensed with the platform’s tolerance of hate speech and misinformation, while “pulling Trump off the platform” has brought new life to Republican gripes with the company, she said.

“Facebook has fires to put out all across the political spectrum,” Miller added. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s damning

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2021 at 12:55 pm

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