While the third-party fact-checking program has long been a Facebook feature that helps flag and demote misinformation shared on the platform, it does not apply to active politicians. CNN recently obtained an internal memo from Meta affirming that this policy will also apply to former President Donald Trump, who announced his candidacy for the presidency on Nov. 15.
In its fact-checking policies, Meta states that posts and ads from politicians should not be fact-checked in the third-party program.
“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, especially in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is the most scrutinized speech there is,” Meta wrote. “Just as critically, by limiting political speech we would leave people less informed about what their elected officials are saying and leave politicians less accountable for their words.”
“This includes the words a politician says as well as photo, video, or other content that is clearly labeled as created by the politician or their campaign,” the page states, going on to define “politician” as candidates running for office, those holding elected positions and appointees.
Former candidates and officials are fair game, however.
“At PolitiFact, we’ve been very consistent — we think everyone should be eligible to be fact-checked, at any time,” said Aaron Sharockman, the executive director of PolitiFact. “It builds trust with users, viewers and readers, and ultimately makes the fact-checking process both more transparent and equitable.”
Meta stressed the distinction between politicians sharing or including content that has been flagged as false and the politicians’ statements themselves.
“When a politician shares a specific piece of content — e.g. a link to an article, video or photo created by someone else that has been previously debunked on Facebook — we will demote that content, display a warning and reject its inclusion in ads. This is different from a politician’s own claim or statement,” Meta wrote.
“I still think it’s ridiculous to allow politicians to skirt rules aimed at stopping the spread of misinformation,” said Alex Mahadevan, director of MediaWise, a non-partisan news literacy and education project at The Poynter Institute. “But when candidates are allowed to bypass fact-checkers, MediaWise fills the void by teaching teens, older adults, Spanish speakers — anyone — how to spot false or misleading posts, do reverse image searches — be their own fact-checker.”
In addition to Facebook’s policy, Twitter also deamplifies certain user content, but requires there to be “immediate and severe” effects from its dissemination.
“Depending on potential for offline harm, we limit amplification of misleading content or remove it from Twitter if offline consequences could be immediate and severe,” Twitter’s misinformation policy states.