By Isaac Stanley-Becker, Elizabeth Dwoskin
In the final months of the presidential campaign, prominent associates of President Donald Trump and conservative groups with vast online followings have flirted with, and frequently crossed, the boundaries set forth by Facebook about the repeated sharing of misinformation.
From a pro-Trump super PAC to the president’s eldest son, however, these users have received few penalties, according to an examination of several months of posts and ad spending, as well as internal company documents. In certain cases, their accounts have been protected against more severe enforcement because of concern about the perception of anti-conservative bias, said current and former Facebook employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.
These people said the preferential treatment has undercut Facebook’s own efforts to curb misinformation, in particular the technologies put in place to downgrade problematic actors. Toward the end of last year, around the time Facebook-owned Instagram was rolling out labels obscuring fact-challenged posts and directing users to accurate information, the company removed a strike against Donald Trump Jr. for a fact-check on the photo-sharing service that would have made him a so-called repeat offender, fearing the backlash that would have ensued from the accompanying penalties, according to two former employees familiar with the matter.
These penalties can be severe, including reduced traffic and possible demotion in search. One former employee said it was among numerous strikes removed over the past year for the president’s family members.