Facebook to limit distribution of political content to U.S. users

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Facebook said Wednesday it would limit the distribution of political content to U.S. users in the coming weeks.

News publishers will not be exempt from the restrictions, Facebook told The Washington Times. Facebook insisted that it is demoting political content across the board so as to not affect a single brand or publisher. The company added that the new approach would not impede publishers’ ability to monetize their content. 

Aastha Gupta, Facebook product management director, wrote on the company’s blog that content about the coronavirus pandemic and content from official government agencies and services would be exempt from the restrictions on political news and information.

“As a first step, we’ll temporarily reduce the distribution of political content in News Feed for a small percentage of people in Canada, Brazil, and Indonesia this week, and the U.S. in the coming weeks,” Ms. Gupta wrote on Facebook’s blog. “During these initial tests we’ll explore a variety of ways to rank political content in people’s feeds using different signals, and then decide on the approaches we’ll use going forward.”

Ms. Gupta said Facebook is not intending to remove all political content from its platforms but aiming to better serve users who do not want to be overwhelmed by political content.

“Our goal is to preserve the ability for people to find and interact with political content on Facebook, while respecting each person’s appetite for it at the top of their News Feed,” Ms. Gupta wrote.

While Facebook has long taken action against pages, groups and users who post information that Facebook deems to have violated its policies, the company’s decision to proactively limit users’ exposure to political content is new territory for the company.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg signaled the shift in a conference call announcing the company’s earnings at the end of January where he said the company was toying with different approaches to “reduce the amount of political content” users see in their News Feed.

“We want these [political] discussions to be able to keep happening, but one of the top pieces of feedback we’re hearing from our community right now is that people don’t want politics to take over their experience on our services, Mr. Zuckerberg said on the call, according to a transcript published by Facebook. “So one theme for this year is that we’re going to continue to focus on helping millions more people participate in healthy communities, and we’re going to focus even more on being a force for bringing people closer together.”

The social media company previously banned former President Trump from its platforms while he remained in office and has extended the ban indefinitely. The banishment of Mr. Trump is undergoing a review by Facebook’s oversight board, which is responsible for reviewing enforcement and governance matters on Facebook platforms.

While the board is organized as a separate entity from Facebook, it functions with a $130 million trust from Facebook

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