Facebook is now an arbiter of truth

Good morning, Data Sheet readers. Tech writer Danielle Abril here. You may remember me from the various occasions in which I filled in for Adam Lashinsky.

Though the team will miss Adam dearly, we are turning to the next chapter of Data Sheet. I’m excited to begin delivering the latest tech news to your inbox every Thursday as an official author of the newsletter.

One of the things I’ve been watching is the recent backpedaling on the part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

In January, Zuckerberg passionately defended free speech at the Silicon Slopes Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah. “This is the new approach,” he said. “I think it’s going to piss off a lot of people.”

But perhaps Zuckerberg has pissed off enough people to reconsider that statement. In recent weeks, Facebook has debuted new rules banning posts, groups, pages, and accounts related to QAnon, a conspiracy theory tied to the far-right. Facebook also recently said it plans to crack down on presidential candidates or political parties that claim election victory before the official result has been determined.

The service added another new rule this week, banning ads that discourage people from getting vaccinated—though it’s leaving anti-vaxx posts from users untouched. And following pressure it received from Holocaust survivors around the world, Facebook said it will remove posts that deny or downplay the mass murder of about six million Jews in Nazi Germany.

In announcing that ban, Zuckerberg admitted he’s had to rethink how he views free speech. “I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” he said in Facebook post on Monday. “My own thinking has evolved.”

On Wednesday, Facebook reduced the distribution of a New York Post story about an alleged email that connects presidential candidate Joe Biden to corruption in Ukraine. In a tweet, company spokesman Andy Stone said Facebook chose to take the action because the story needed to be fact-checked by the service’s third-party partners.

In all fairness, for years Facebook has had rules against certain types of speech. Users have been prohibited from threatening someone with violence, for example. But Zuckerberg repeatedly has said he doesn’t want Facebook to be the arbiter of truth. Yet with its most recent changes, the company is doing just that.

Danielle Abril

Twitter: @DanielleDigest