Facebook Expands Hate Speech Policy, Will Add Notifications to ‘Newsworthy’ Posts That Break Rules

Social network will crack down on ads that target people based on race and sexual orientation, as well as posts that look to suppress voter turnout

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Friday announced the tech giant will start adding warning labels to posts it deems “newsworthy” from public figures that otherwise break the company’s rules — a move first used by Twitter. Zuckerberg also said the company would be expanding what is and is not allowed to be said on the platform under its “hate speech” policies.

The 36-year-old executive made the announcements during a virtual conference call with Facebook employees, which he made available to the public for about 12 minutes on his Facebook page. Zuckerberg’s announcements come as several major brands, like Verizon and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, have recently joined a Facebook ad boycott led by several civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League. The campaign, dubbed the #StopHateForProfit initiative, has accused Facebook and Zuckerberg of allowing extremists to promote violence, thanks to Facebook’s more hands-off moderation policies in comparison to other tech giants.

Zuckerberg, while not acknowledging the ad boycott, said Facebook will start adding a “prompt” that indicates when “problematic” yet “newsworthy” posts may have violated the company’s rules. The move follows a similar decision made by Twitter, which has recently attached warning labels and fact check notifications to several of President Trump’s tweets. Zuckerberg didn’t appear to be a fan of this approach as recently as last month, when he said it “wouldn’t be right for us to do fact checks for politicians.”

On top of that, Zuckerberg said there will be certain posts that are automatically removed from Facebook, no matter what.

“To clarify one point on this that I know a lot of people have asked about: There’s no newsworthy exemption to content that incites violence or suppresses voting,” Zuckerberg said. “Even if a politician or government official says it, if we determine the content may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote, we’re going to take that content down, no matter who says it.”

Facebook will also be expanding its ad policy to prohibit claims specific races, ethnicities, religious affiliations, sexual orientations and gender identities are a “threat” to others.

“We’re also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them,” Zuckerberg added.

Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, one of the organizations behind the ad boycott, wasn’t satisfied with the measures Zuckerberg outlined. Robinson called Zuckerberg’s comments a “wasted opportunity” on Twitter.

The announcements mark a departure from Zuckerberg’s previous stance on policing ads and political speech. Overall, compared to other tech leaders, Zuckerberg has been more inclined to let politicians say what they want without having Facebook add qualifiers or notifications to their posts.

“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online,” Zuckerberg told Fox News last month. “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

Facebook and Zuckerberg have already faced a wave of criticism over the past few weeks for the company’s decision to not moderate the president’s account. Earlier this month, Zuckerberg said he was “disgusted” by the president’s recent comments on protesting and rioting following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. At the same time, Zuckerberg defended his decision to leave the president’s account alone, unlike Snapchat and Twitter.

With the ad boycott picking up steam this week, Zuckerberg on Friday appeared compelled to reach a compromise between what the civil rights groups have called for and what his approach has been to moderating content. His closing remarks aimed to thread the needle between his previous views on free speech and the company’s new, expanded policies.

“I’m committed to making sure Facebook remains a place where people can use their voice to discuss important issues. Because I really believe we make more progress together when we can hear each other’s perspectives,” Zuckerberg said. “But I also stand against hate, or anything that incites violence or suppresses voting, and we’re committing to removing that content, too, no matter where it comes from.”