Facebook avoided punishing Trump Jr's Instagram account over fear of backlash: report

Facebook avoided punishing Donald Trump Jr.’s Instagram account over a fear of backlash and of allegations of being anti-conservative, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Two former employees familiar with the matter told the Post that at the end of 2019, Facebook, which owns Instagram, removed a fact-checking strike against President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE’s eldest son. The sources said that would have categorized him as a repeat offender and instituted penalties, and the company feared the response of taking those steps. 

These penalties could involve reduction of traffic and a potential demotion in searches. One former employee told the Post that this incident was one of numerous strike removals in the past year for the president’s family members. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Post determined through an analysis that several groups and people associated with the president have violated Facebook rules about sharing misinformation but received few penalties. The analysis involved several months of posts and ad spending and internal company documents. 

Current and former Facebook employees told the Post that in some cases these accounts have not been dealt punishments to avoid allegations of anti-conservative bias. 

Facebook spokesperson Andrea Vallone told the Post that the company is “responsible for how we apply enforcement, and as a matter of diligence, we will not apply a penalty in rare cases when the rating was not appropriate or warranted under the program’s established guidelines.” 

A representative for Trump Jr. could not immediately be reached for comment. 

The social media giant has made several changes to avoid spreading misinformation on the platform, including banning new political ads a week ahead of the election. But the current and former employees told the Post that the fact-checking program launched after the 2016 election has not regulated some of the most well-known distributors of false and misleading information. 

ADVERTISEMENT

More than a dozen prominent right-leaning Facebook pages identified by the Post shared information fact-checked by the company’s independent fact-checkers twice within 90 days over the last six months, multiple people with the company’s process said. 

This would normally identify the pages as repeat offenders activating punishments like reducing distribution and preventing ad buying, but most of the pages were still receiving high engagement and buying ads.

Facebook’s Vallone told the newspaper that “many” of the pages the Post focused on “have been penalized for repeatedly sharing misinformation in the past three months” but did not provide specific penalties.

“We don’t disclose the details of these thresholds publicly for very real concerns about gaming the system, but we do send notifications to groups, pages, accounts and advertisers when they’ve received a strike and are receiving reduced distribution, and when they are a repeat offender," she said. 

She stood by Facebook’s fact-checking program, saying it makes Facebook the “only company that partners with over 80 fact-checking organizations to apply fact-checks to millions of pieces of content.”