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Biden campaign assails Facebook for 'haggling’ with Trump over his online posts

In a letter, the campaign voices skepticism about whether the social media platform is serious about treating disinformation from the president seriously.

President Trump and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg meet in the Oval Office on Sept. 19, 2019. (Joiyce N. Boghosian/The White House)
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Joe Biden’s presidential campaign demanded in a letter to Facebook that the company prevent misuse of its platform by President Trump to spread “hateful content” and misleading claims about mail-in voting ahead of the November election.

The letter, obtained by The Washington Post and addressed to Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs and communications, is the latest in a series of complaints from the campaign about how Facebook enforces its rules for politicians. It reflects intensifying ill will between Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and the Silicon Valley giant forced back on its heels by a major advertising boycott over the tenor of commentary on the platform.

The Monday communication, signed by Jen O’Malley Dillon, Biden’s campaign manager, raised particular concern about revelations in a Washington Post article posted online Sunday about Facebook’s history of reworking its policies to accommodate inflammatory rhetoric and false claims from Trump, dating to his time as a candidate in 2015. The story recounted efforts by Facebook executives to persuade Trump to tweak or delete a post last month about sending in the military to quell the protests in Minneapolis in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

Read the letter to Facebook

“We are troubled by The Post’s confirmation that after President Trump’s tweets about the George Floyd protests, Facebook ‘chose to haggle’ with the White House, requesting edits and deletions, rather than taking a clear and transparent stand based on established policies,” O’Malley Dillon wrote.

Zuckerberg once wanted to sanction Trump. Then Facebook wrote rules that accommodated him.

The letter also makes requests, including that Facebook remove previous Trump posts that claimed, without evidence, that voting by mail, which has been widespread in numerous states for years, is a source of electoral fraud. The campaign maintains that the deceptive claims — about a method of voting that could prove critical in November because of the coronavirus pandemic — amount to voter suppression, which Facebook has vowed to wipe from its platform.

A longtime Democratic strategist who was a deputy campaign manager for President Barack Obama’s reelection effort in 2012, O’Malley Dillon has bluntly assailed major technology companies during the 2020 cycle. Last fall, when she was still managing Beto O’Rourke’s bid for the Democratic nomination, she warned Silicon Valley about the stakes of inaction following the viral spread of a false rumor about the former Texas congressman and a mass shooting that had unfolded in his state.

“In 2016, Silicon Valley’s flagrant inaction called into question the very results of our presidential election; and if they don’t do better in 2020, we may lose our democracy forever,” she wrote at the time.

How conservatives learned to wield power inside Facebook

Monday’s letter reflects how little Democrats have been assuaged by Facebook’s recent pledges on the issue. “We have watched in recent months as Facebook’s actions have not met its promises,” O’Malley Dillon wrote.

Facebook faced similar criticism this week on Capitol Hill, where three Democratic senators accused chief executive Mark Zuckerberg of not eliminating white-supremacist and other extremist content from the site.

“The United States is going through a long-overdue examination of the systemic racism prevalent in our society. Americans of all races, ages, and backgrounds have bravely taken to the streets to demand equal justice for all,” wrote the senators, who included Mark R. Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement, its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook’s professed commitment to racial justice and the company’s actions and business interests.”

Reddit closes long-running forum supporting President Trump after years of policy violations

Facebook has moved recently to toughen its position against misinformation by politicians, especially when it comes to posts or advertising that could contribute to voter suppression. Biden’s campaign and civil rights groups say Trump’s frequent — and false — comments on the subject on social media should be considered voter suppression.

Zuckerberg announced Friday that the company will remove posts that attempt to suppress voting or incite violence, even when made by politicians, and that the company will affix labels to posts that violate rules about hate speech or other policies. The company said that it will not apply that policy to previous posts, and it said that Trump’s comments about looters don’t violate its updated policies.

Follow up letter from Biden campaign to Facebook

In response to a query about the Biden letter, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said, "We appreciate the concerns raised by the Biden campaign and look forward to sharing more details about our Voting Information Center, where more Americans will be alerted to accurate, authoritative information about voting than ever before.”