- The Washington Times
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, took issue Tuesday with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over a new policy that has resulted in the platform flagging some of President Trump’s recent posts.

Mr. Hawley wrote Mr. Zuckerberg asking him to rethink Facebook’s new practice of attaching labels to content that “seeks to delegitimize” the outcome of the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

The former Missouri attorney general also complained about Facebook’s decision to ban political advertisements in the week preceding the U.S. election and urged its CEO to reverse course.

Facebook announced both policies on Sept. 3, precisely two months before Election Day when voters will decide if Mr. Trump will be sent for a second term in the White House.

“We will attach an informational label to content that seeks to delegitimize the outcome of the election or discuss the legitimacy of voting methods, for example, by claiming that lawful methods of voting will lead to fraud,” Facebook said at the time.

The social network had added the labels to at least two of Mr. Trump’s posts on the platform since then, each one similarly attacking the integrity of mail-in voting.

In each of the posts that ultimately prompted Facebook to intervene, Mr. Trump recommended voters cast their ballots before Election Day by mail and then potentially in person at the polls.

Mr. Trump suggested in both posts that voting by mail is unreliable. Facebook applied identical labels to each one assuring users otherwise and linking to a page containing further information.

The labels, visible below each of the posts, say: “Voting by mail has a long history of trustworthiness in the U.S. and the same is predicted this year.” They cite the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“I urge you and your company to reconsider these policies,” Mr. Hawley said about Facebook’s new rules for its informational labels and its plans to briefly suspend political ads next month.

Mr. Hawley did not give a clear reason in his letter as to why he opposes Facebook adding the informational labels, and his office did not immediately return a message seeking clarification.

But the Missouri Republican was explicit with respect to his opposition to the ban on political ads, and he complained it may be interpreted to broadly cover all sorts of content.

The one-week ban also covers ads for political and “social issues,” which Facebook has defined “sensitive topics that are heavily debated, may influence the outcome of an election,” Mr. Hawley noted.

“In a culture in which virtually every issue — from knitting and yoga to sushi and young-adult fiction — has become aggressively politicized, any topic can be deemed ‘sensitive’ in the right context. Given Facebook’s sweeping powers to shape the news and information that Americans receive, clarity on Facebook’s understanding of these terms is critical,” wrote the senator.

In addition to urging Mr. Zuckerberg to reconsider the policies, Mr. Hawley requested he answers several questions specifically relating to the ban on political ads by Sept. 23.

Facebook did not immediately return a message requesting comment.

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