Talking Points

Facebook will make it easier for politicians to hide their wildest beliefs

Facebook will tweak its content moderation policies, the social network announced Friday, ending some special leeway for politicians. Previously, elected officials were granted a newsworthiness exception for content that would be removed — or even result in account suspension — if shared by ordinary users. That exception will be granted far more rarely and transparently going forward.

I'm not convinced deleting politicians' posts is a good idea. It's not that it's all newsworthy: Five years of former President Donald Trump's tweets disabused me of the old journalistic assumption of inherent official newsworthiness. Nor do I think Facebook should be forced to host this stuff. But I do see in Facebook a useful temptation to politicians who believe false, unethical, and otherwise objectionable things: a place to announce to the voting public views they might otherwise manage to conceal. Shouldn't we want to know if people seeking or holding positions of power believe false or unethical things? Isn't that crucial information about how they'll wield their power?

Deplatforming these politicians — ousting them from social networks — is attractive in its moral simplicity, and certainly it did a lot to quiet Trump (whom the Facebook announcement said will be given a conditional return to the platform after a two-year suspension). Yet it can have all sorts of unwanted consequences, including leaving voters ignorant of the wild ideas officials entertain; making those ideas more attractive to some people by virtue of their being "forbidden;" and driving some of those people to fringier platforms where, without pushback from users who disagree with them, their thinking becomes even more misguided.

A more productive approach might be something like what tech journalist Charlie Warzel discussed in his email newsletter in April: adding "friction" to curtail the spread of content, like a limited post rate (say, three posts per week) or a multi-day delay between post submission and publication. Misinformation benefits from unfettered volume and speed, Warzel notes, as "bad actors ... publish quickly and gain a huge advantage over authoritative news outlets that take time to vet information before sharing it." Friction would cut into that advantage without concealing politicians' true views from the public.

The greatest service Facebook could do this country is to pull its own plug. Failing that, introducing friction — and ideally for everyone, not only politicians — would be prudent.