Trump will lose his fact-checking protections on Facebook once he leaves the White House, meaning the platform could demote his page if he spouts misinformation

  • Facebook's policies will allow it to start adding fact-checks to posts from President Donald Trump once he has left the White House, a spokesperson told Business Insider.
  • Politicians are exempt from fact-checks on Facebook, but they lose this protection once they leave office. 
  • That means future posts from Trump containing any misinformation could have their visibility reduced by Facebook.
  • If Trump becomes a repeat offender, Facebook could penalize his page.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When President Donald Trump leaves the White House on January 20, Facebook will be ready to start fact-checking him.

Facebook told Business Insider on Wednesday that once Trump is replaced by President-elect Joe Biden, his posts will be eligible for fact-checking, just like those belonging to all "former officials" on the platform.

Politicians on Facebook are exempt from fact-checking: Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg have said that it is not the company's place to fact-check political speech.

If Facebook decides fact-checked posts contain misinformation, it reduces their visibility, making them appear further down in people's feeds. It also warns users before they share that post, and add labels with details on why it's been debunked.

Perhaps most importantly for Trump, if a page routinely produces content that gets fact-checked, Facebook says it takes punitive action, including reducing that page's overall visibility.

Facebook only started fact-checking posts after Trump won the 2016 election, meaning this is the first time Trump will be vulnerable to fact-checking penalties on the platform.

Speaking at a senate judiciary committee hearing on Tuesday, both Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono how the platforms planned to handle posts from Donald Trump once he stops being president.

Both Twitter and Facebook have special policies for posts from political figures, meaning world leaders can sometimes post content that, if posted by a normal user, would result in sanctions.

Zuckerberg's reply downplayed the idea that Trump's Facebook activity might be visibly impacted once he leaves office.

"In terms of President Trump and moving forward, there are a small number of policies where we have exceptions for politicians under the principle that people should be able to hear what their elected officials are saying and candidates for office," Zuckerberg replied.

Zuckerberg announced this policy in June of this year, saying Facebook would add labels to content that violates its policies but that the platform chooses to leave up because it believes the content to be newsworthy.

"But by and large, the vast majority of our policies have no newsworthiness or political exception, so if the president or anyone else is spreading hate speech or inciting violence or posting content that delegitimizes the election or valid forms of voting, those will receive the same treatment as anyone else saying those things, and that will continue to be the case," he added in his testimony on Tuesday.

The fact-checking change

Facebook told Business Insider the biggest change for Trump in terms of Facebook's policies is that he will no longer be exempt from fact-checking. It pointed to this part of Facebook's policy: "Former candidates for office or former officials continue to be covered by our third-party fact-checking programme."

Facebook and Zuckerberg have resisted fact-checking posts from politicians on the grounds that it is not the company's place to fact-check political speech, a stance that has drawn criticism from some who believe Facebook does not do enough to stem the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Facebook has been adding tags to Trump's recent posts about the election, directing people to official sources of information. Most recently, after Trump claimed Republican poll watchers were not allowed into counting rooms, Facebook added a label saying "Joe Biden is the projected winner of the 2020 US election."

But these are not fully-fledged fact-checks.

If Facebook decides fact-checked posts contain misinformation, it reduces their visibility, making them appear further down in people's feeds. It also warns users before they share that post, and add labels with details on why it's been debunked.

Perhaps most importantly for Trump, if a page routinely produces content that gets fact-checked, Facebook says it takes punitive action, including reducing that page's overall visibility.

Exactly what will happen to Trump's Facebook presence after January 20 remains to be seen, and recently, doubt has been cast over whether Facebook enforces its policies consistently. Former employees told the Post they were instructed to be lenient with Trump allies and family members' pages, for fear that the platform might attract allegations of anti-conservative bias if it restricted their distribution.

Meanwhile, Dorsey confirmed on Wednesday that once Trump leaves office he will no longer be shielded by the company's rules on content from "world leaders," meaning that if he violates the platform's guidelines — which he has done in the past — he could be penalized, and even kicked off Twitter.

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