Facebook will finally start labelling content from politicians that, despite being newsworthy, violates it content policies, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Friday in a Facebook Live session. Content that may lead to violence or suppresses voting, even it is by politicians, will be removed by Facebook. This announcement came almost a month after Twitter and Facebook chalked out drastically different policies on how to deal with hate speech by politicians, including US President Donald Trump.

On May 29, Twitter had placed a public interest notice on a tweet by Trump that said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”, that sought to threaten people protesting against racism after the Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, a Black man, as they arrested him. Twitter limited its spread by disabling “Like” and “Retweet” (without comment) on the tweet, and fact checked Trump on his tweet about mail-in ballots in California. Facebook will also not follow a similar policy to fight voter suppression ahead of the 2020 US presidential election.

Facebook, on the other hand refused to take down or add an addendum to Trump’s. But Zuckerberg stood his ground, even as multiple Facebook employees resigned in protest and staged the company’s first walkout, albeit a virtual one, to make their voices heard. Even after Friday’s announcement, the same post from Trump has not been labelled by Facebook. After the furore, Zuckerberg had said in a meeting with 25,000 Facebook employees that while Trump’s posts may not pose a “100 per cent clear-cut of a decision”, posts from India where “someone” said “‘Hey, if the police don’t take care of this, our supporters will get in there and clear the streets’” are a clear cut case of incitement of violence and have been taken down. This was ostensibly a reference to BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s comments during the Delhi riots.

Classifying more content as hateful content in ads

Zuckerberg also said that the company would expand the definition of “hateful content in ads” to “prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others”. He also said that the company was expanding its policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers that target them, though he did not specify what these policies were.

Just ten days ago, Facebook had initially approved ads by the Trump campaign that featured an inverted triangle, imagery that Nazis used to designate political prisoners but later took them down after Media Matters drew attention to it.

How altruistic is Facebook’s move? MediaNama’s take

It is unlikely that a company that rewrote its content moderation policies to profit from Trump’s vitriol grew a conscience over three weeks. It is likelier that the #StopHateforProfit campaign by the Anti-Defamation League, that called upon major corporations to pause their Facebook advertising, had an effect. Before Zuckerberg’s announcement on June 26, just after the announcement of Unilever pausing all social media advertising, Facebook’s shares fell by 7%.

Companies that have stopped advertising on Facebook include North Face, Verizon, Honda, Unilever, Starbucks and many others. Most have stopped advertising for the month of July but interestingly, some companies have only stopped advertising on Facebook and not on Facebook-owned Instagram, while others have put a pause on all social media advertising, including on Twitter and YouTube.

Now the question is, how much of this pause in advertising is because of companies standing up for what is right through their dollar and how much of it is to save said dollar during the pandemic? It is no secret that all sectors of every economy have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. And as we have seen from different earnings, marketing budgets have been the first to take a hit. The almost universal anger against Facebook has provided companies a good PR opportunity to turn their reduced marketing budgets into a PR win. As they cut back on marketing, as a footnote, they can lay off their marketing departments but still come out of it looking like upholders of civil rights. Win-win.