Facebook has announced changes to how it handles and communicates violations of its policies around the publishing of fake news and misinformation, with the goal of preventing publishers that operate large networks of pages and groups from skirting bans. Starting today, Facebook says it will reserve the right to take down existing pages and groups that are simply affiliated with those that have violated the company’s community standards, even if those pages or groups haven’t technically broken any rules.
Facebook says this is specifically to prevent users from using an adjacent or other existing page or group as a replacement once another has been flagged and taken down. Prior to this change, the page or group must have been made after the initial removal to be potentially affected simply for affiliation reasons. Now, Facebook says it can use this policy to pull down an affiliated page or group even if it was made before the takedown.
While it appears the change is focused on preventing people from continuing to peddle fake or purposefully inflammatory content, it also applies to violations of Facebook’s rules on spam and clickbait, copyright-infringing material, hate speech, graphic violence, harassment and bullying, and nudity. Not all inaccurate or inflammatory content counts as a violation, but the company now points to its extensive community standards page to help clarify how it makes these distinctions.
Here’s the policy change in full:
We’ve long prohibited people from creating new Pages, groups, events, or accounts that look similar to those we’ve previously removed for violating our Community Standards. However, we’ve seen people working to get around our enforcement by using existing Pages that they already manage for the same purpose as the Page we removed for violating our standards.
To address this gap, when we remove a Page or group for violating our policies, we may now also remove other Pages and Groups even if that specific Page or Group has not met the threshold to be unpublished on its own. To enforce this updated policy, we’ll look at a broad set of information, including whether the Page has the same people administering it, or has a similar name, to one we’re removing.
In a seemingly good-faith effort to keep page owners better informed about whether they’re continuously posting content that violates its rules, Facebook says it’s updated the administrative portal of its site to include a new “Page Quality” tab.
There, page owners can get a breakdown of posts and other shared material that has violated the community standards, as well as posts judged to be false or misleading by the company’s network of third-party fact-checkers. Facebook says it won’t be including breakdowns of content that is taken down for reasons related to “spam, clickbait, or IP violations,” although it’s a bit unclear why those categories would be exempt from the new, more transparent enforcement communication.
The move is yet another attempt from Facebook to proactively police its users and take a more direct role in ensuring its platform isn’t overrun with fake news and propaganda, as well as content designed to stir tensions and direct hate at specific groups. Over the last few years, the social media company has become a central player in information warfare, election interference, and even genocide, as foreign governments and other malicious third parties have found the website to be a particularly effective and lucrative tool in these efforts.
While this change to page enforcement is just one small step, it’s a recognition from the company that one of its few options for recourse is to become more stringent and keep a closer eye on the behavior of its users.
Update 1/23, 5:33PM ET: Clarified that Facebook’s prior policy required a page or group be created after a prior one was taken down to be potentially affected purely for its affiliation to a previous page or group.