Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is said to have personally overseen changes on the social media platform’s content policy that would allow the site to ‘go easy’ on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and the website run by him, InfoWars.
InfoWars is an American far-right conspiracy theory and fake news website owned Jones who was ultimately banned by Facebook in 2019 but before his removal, the changes ordered by Zuckerberg ultimately made it easier for Jones and other far-right hate groups to escape scrutiny on the site.
The social network was also used by groups to recruit and indoctrinate users in the run up to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol last month.
Facebook was about to ban conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, pictured, and links from his Infowars website in April 2019 but his ban took more than a month to come into place
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not consider Jones to be a hate figure and so overruled his own internal experts
Rioters coordinated their attack on the Capitol in January on social media (file photo)
A report by BuzzFeed, alleges Facebook changed the rules for Republican leaders and alt-right commentators allowing them to freely spread their messages online.
Such allowances begin at the very top with a reluctance to ban violent hate speech by former president Donald Trump and not subjecting his campaign ads to the kind of scrutiny fact-checking that would usually be expected of political videos.
Instead the exposé alleges Facebook allowed hate speech and white supremacist messages to thrive on the platform.
Far-right radio show host Alex Jones has been described as ‘America’s leading conspiracy theorist’ and suggested survivors of the 2018 Parkland shooting were ‘crisis actors.’
He also described the Sandy Hook shooting in which 26 people, including 20 children between six and seven-years-old were shot dead, as a ‘false flag’.
Jones described the Sandy Hook shooting, pictured, in which 26 people, including 20 children between six and seven years old were shot dead, as a ‘false flag’.
A loophole was then created whereby Facebook banned Jones, pictured, but still allow users to post support for Infowars and Jones’ conspiracy theories
He then went on to antagonize the victims’ grieving families before ultimately being banned from both Facebook and Instagram in May 2019.
Jones violated Facebook’s policy on ‘dangerous individuals and organizations’, which requires Facebook to also remove any content that expressed ‘praise or support’ for them.’
Yet just just one month earlier, Zuckerberg in April 2019 is said to have personally intervened to keep Jones on the site by making Facebook policies on free speech more lenient.
Despite Jones and his Infowars pages being banned from the Facebook site, a loophole existed whereby followers and fans could still post and share links in support of him.
‘Mark personally didn’t like the punishment, so he changed the rules,’ a former policy employee told BuzzFeed.
‘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 f*** is that for?’ another employee added.
‘Zuckerberg basically took the decision that he did not want to use this policy against Jones because he did not personally think he was a hate figure,’ said another former employee involved with policy.
Facebook has responded to the allegations by stating the situation around Jones required ‘a more nuanced policy and enforcement strategy.’
Decisions over what is allowed to be posted to Facebook is also guided by Joel Kaplan, the vice president of global public policy, pictured here in September 2019
Alongside Zuckerberg, the vice president of global public policy at Facebook. Facebook, Joel Kaplan, is also said to have much to answer for.
Kaplan served as White House deputy chief of staff under President George W. Bush.
As a Republican he is alleged to have repeatedly blocked and delayed efforts to prevent the spread of misinformation on the site.
Kaplan is in charge of overseeing public policy that involves government relationships and lobbying as well as content policy which dictates what can and cannot be posted onto the site.
BuzzFeed notes that Facebook’s setup sees the same person involved in both public policy and content is unusual when compared with other tech companies which often split the role between two people.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, left, the vice president of global public policy at Facebook, Joel Kaplan, right
‘When the company has a very apparent interest in propping up actors who are fanning the flames of the very fire we are trying to put out, it makes it hard to be visibly proud of where I work,’ one researcher described the situation.
Kaplan also came under fire in 2018 when he attended the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.
Kaplan’s presence at the hearings appeared to signal to Facebook workers that he did not care about the sexual assault allegations against the now Supreme Court Justice.
Zuckerberg has been asked about the influence Kaplan holds over the social network during a question and answer session with employees.
It came after a refusal by Facebook to remove Trump’s phrase: ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’ incitement he made during the George Floyd protests.
Facebook workers became angry and a meeting was held between the employees and Zuckerberg.
‘That basically asked whether Joel can be in this role, or can be doing this role, on the basis of the fact that he is a Republican … and I have to say that I find that line of questioning to be very troubling, … If we want to actually do a good job of serving people, [we have to take] into account that there are different views on different things,’ Zuckerberg said in Kaplan’s defense.
Former President Donald Trump was removed from Facebook in the wake of the January 6 attack on Congress. Pictured: Trump speaks at a rally moments before his supporters marched on the Capitol
In the coming months Facebook’s Oversight Board will soon hear the case regarding Donald Trump’s removal from the site
Although responsibility ultimately lies with Zuckerberg, recently the company has set up an independent Oversight Board.
The Board, which makes content moderation decisions on the social media platform, began hearing cases in October 2020.
The Board has the ability to overrule content moderation decisions by intermediaries by applying Facebook’s policies and considering the public interest.
In the coming months The Board will soon hear the case regarding Donald Trump’s removal from the site which came in the wake of the January 6 attack on Congress.
‘Joel Kaplan has influence for sure, but at the end of the day Mark owns this stuff,’ a former policy employee said to BuzzFeed. ‘Mark has consolidated so much of this political decision-making power in himself.’
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6 (file photo)
FACEBOOK’S ‘SUPREME COURT’: THE 20 OVERSIGHT BOARD MEMBERS
Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei – A human rights advocate who works on women’s rights, media freedom and access to information issues across Africa at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.
Evelyn Aswad – A University of Oklahoma College of Law professor who formerly served as a senior State Department lawyer and specializes in the application of international human rights standards to content moderation issues
Endy Bayuni – A journalist who twice served as the editor-in-chief of The Jakarta Post, and helps direct a journalists’ association that promotes excellence in the coverage of religion and spirituality.
Catalina Botero Marino, co-chair – A former U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States who now serves as dean of the Universidad de los Andes Faculty of Law.
Katherine Chen – A communications scholar at the National Chengchi University who studies social media, mobile news and privacy, and a former national communications regulator in Taiwan.
Nighat Dad – A digital rights advocate who offers digital security training to women in Pakistan and across South Asia to help them protect themselves against online harassment, campaigns against government restrictions on dissent, and received the Human Rights Tulip Award.
Jamal Greene, co-chair – A Columbia Law professor who focuses on constitutional rights adjudication and the structure of legal and constitutional argument.
Pamela Karlan – A Stanford Law professor and Supreme Court advocate who has represented clients in voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and First Amendment cases, and serves as a member of the board of the American Constitution Society. Karlan had been asked to describe the differences between a U.S. president and a king during Trump’s impeachment hearing when she brought up the first son’s name. ‘The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron,’ Karlan told lawmakers. She later apologized.
Tawakkol Karman – A Nobel Peace Prize laureate who used her voice to promote nonviolent change in Yemen during the Arab Spring, and was named as one of ‘History’s Most Rebellious Women’ by Time magazine.
Maina Kiai – A director of Human Rights Watch’s Global Alliances and Partnerships Program and a former U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association who has decades of experience advocating for human rights in Kenya.
Sudhir Krishnaswamy – A vice chancellor of the National Law School of India University who co-founded an advocacy organization that works to advance constitutional values for everyone, including LGBTQ+ and transgender persons, in India.
Ronaldo Lemos – A technology, intellectual property and media lawyer who co-created a national internet rights law in Brazil, co-founded a nonprofit focused on technology and policy issues, and teaches law at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro.
Michael McConnell, co-chair – A former U.S. federal circuit judge who is now a constitutional law professor at Stanford, an expert on religious freedom, and a Supreme Court advocate who has represented clients in a wide range of First Amendment cases involving freedom of speech, religion and association.
Julie Owono – A digital rights and anti-censorship advocate who leads Internet Sans Frontières and campaigns against internet censorship in Africa and around the world.
Emi Palmor – A former director general of the Israeli Ministry of Justice who led initiatives to address racial discrimination, advance access to justice via digital services and platforms and promote diversity in the public sector.
Alan Rusbridger – A former editor-in-chief of The Guardian who transformed the newspaper into a global institution and oversaw its Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Edward Snowden disclosures. He was editor of the left-leaning Guardian newspaper for 20 years, which was chosen by Edward Snowden to publicise his NSA leaks and campaigned against the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States.
András Sajó – A former judge and vice president of the European Court of Human Rights who is an expert in free speech and comparative constitutionalism.
John Samples – A public intellectual who writes extensively on social media and speech regulation, advocates against restrictions on online expression, and helps lead a libertarian think tank.
Left to right: Nicolas Suzor and Helle Thorning-Schmidt
Nicolas Suzor – A Queensland University of Technology Law School professor who focuses on the governance of social networks and the regulation of automated systems, and has published a book on internet governance.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, co-chair – A former prime minister of Denmark who repeatedly took stands for free expression while in office and then served as CEO of Save the Children. The social democrat was elected in 2011 on a pro-immigration, high tax manifesto before losing power in 2015.