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Why Facebook did not immediately block death wishes on Trump after he was stricken by COVID

Facebook’s Community Standards policy allows for more attacks against ‘public figures’ compared to ‘private’ individuals 
Wed Oct 7, 2020 - 2:53 pm EST
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President Trump delivers remarks at a coronavirus press briefing Friday, March 20, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. Official White House Photo / Shealah Craighead

October 7, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Trump supporters wondering why death wishes on the US president were not immediately blocked by Facebook after news broke last week that he had been stricken with COVID-19 can thank the tech giant’s Community Standards guidelines.

These are written in such a way that “protections” from defamatory posts for “public figures” are not as robust as those for “private individuals. This leaves open the possibility its users are freer to express possible hateful posts, and possibly wishes of death, upon a “public figure” compared to a “private” person, so long as the “public” person is not “directly tagged in the post or comment.”

“We distinguish between public figures and private individuals because we want to allow discussion, which often includes critical commentary of people who are featured in the news or who have a large public audience,” reads section nine of Facebook’s Community Standards guidelines titled “Bullying and Harassment.” 

“For public figures, we remove attacks that are severe as well as certain attacks where the public figure is directly tagged in the post or comment. For private individuals, our protection goes further: we remove content that's meant to degrade or shame, including, for example, claims about someone's sexual activity.”

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Facebook’s section nine states that one must not “Target anyone maliciously by” willingly creating “Pages or Groups that are dedicated to attacking individual(s) by: Calling for death, serious disease, epidemic disease, or disability.”

Section nine also states that one must not target “anyone” in the willing sending of messages “when aimed at an individual or group of individuals in the thread” which could include “Targeted cursing, Calls for death, serious disease, disability, epidemic disease, or physical harm.” 

Because of the way Facebook's rules are worded, however, attacks directed at a public official, such as U.S. President Donald Trump, may only be considered an offense by Facebook if it deems them to be a direct attack whereby a public figures page is manually tagged in a post or comment. 

Section nine states that a “private individual, or public figure who is a minor” must not be targeted “with” any calls for “death, serious disease, epidemic disease, or disability.” 

However, when it comes to a public figure, such as a politician, the wording in section nine is less strict, stating one must not “purposefully” expose a “public figure” in a call for “death, serious disease, epidemic disease, or disability.” 

When it comes to the sharing of posts, section nine states that “Context and intent matter” and that they do “allow people to share and re-share posts if it is clear that something was shared in order to condemn or draw attention to bullying and harassment.”

Facebook’s guidelines also say that in “certain instances” it requires their users to self-report possible harassment or abuse, “because it helps us understand that the person targeted feels bullied or harassed.”

Section nine states that a private adult, minor, or “involuntary minor public figures” must “self report” posts that they deem to be offensive but does not state a public official must do so. 

In section 12 of Facebook’s Community Standards guidelines titled “Hate Speech,” Facebook says that in some cases the sharing of other persons' “hate speech” could be allowed for “raising awareness.” 

“Sometimes people share content containing someone else’s hate speech for the purpose of raising awareness or educating others. In some cases, words or terms that might otherwise violate our standards are used self-referentially or in an empowering way,” reads a portion of section 12. 

Despite Facebook’s muddled wording over hateful posts directed at public figures, Twitter announced last Friday that tweets wishing “death” on “anyone” would not be allowed on its platform but did say such a tweet would not mean an automatic suspension. 

“tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against *anyone* are not allowed and will need to be removed. this does not automatically mean suspension,” said Twitter in an announcement last Friday.

Twitter made this announcement shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump made public late last week that both he and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, tested positive for Covid-19. Trump has since recovered from the virus after a brief hospital stay. 

Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois did announce that it would be removing “death threats” or content “targeted directly at the president that wishes him death,” from their platform, despite the vague wording in their Community Standards guidelines. 

"To be clear, Facebook is removing death threats or content targeted directly at the president that wishes him death, including comments on his posts or his page - in addition to content tagging him," wrote Bourgeois on Twitter Friday

Last week, Facebook announced it will ban ads on its website along with Instagram relating to the U.S. 2020 elections which claim that voter fraud is prevalent, or that suggest results would be invalid, despite the fact the social media giant has been pushing for online voter registration.


  coronavirus, death threats, donald trump, facebook, president trump

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