On Wednesday, Facebook held an event for reporters to discuss its efforts to prevent misinformation from spreading on its platform. At the event CNN’s Oliver Darcy asked why Infowars—the notorious conspiracy site that, most infamously, has promoted claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax staged by child actors—was still allowed to maintain an official Facebook page. Here’s how the executive in charge of Facebook’s “News Feed” answered:
“I guess just for being false, that doesn’t violate the community standards,” Hegeman said, explaining that InfoWars has “not violated something that would result in them being taken down.”
Hegeman added, “I think part of the fundamental thing here is that we created Facebook to be a place where different people can have a voice. And different publishers have very different points of view.”
Thursday, on Twitter, Darcy described Hegeman’s response as insufficient, to which Facebook responded with this doozy of an argument:
“Opinion or analysis”! The opinion and analysis that InfoWars has published or broadcast in recent months, for reference, includes a host’s claim that Hitler is still alive and a conversation between site founder Alex Jones and a guy who says NASA runs a child-slave colony on Mars.
Facebook tried to defend itself by asserting that it helps bury specific fake-news posts:
Of course, relying on post-hoc downvoting or whatever doesn’t mean that InfoWars can’t publish posts and videos claiming, as one currently on its Facebook page does, that the Obama administration kept secret plans to imprison dissidents in FEMA reeducation camps, or, in more quotidian but equally bogus fashion, claiming that Democratic Party “insiders” have “confirmed” that Hillary Clinton will run again in 2020. It just means those bogus stories don’t spread quite as fast.
The Clinton and Obama posts point to what might be an important piece of context here: While a great deal of InfoWars content is simply insane in a non-partisan way, its conspiratorial worldview has significant appeal to the kinds of right-wingers who believe, for example, that Muslims have created “no-go zone” strongholds in Europe and that Obama was born in Africa. One such person, of course, is the president of the United States, and his administration has a friendly relationship with Jones’ outlet. If Facebook were to outright boot InfoWars, then, it would basically inviting a right-wing “free speech” campaign against itself. Instead, for now, it’s trying to please everyone at once by publicly condemning fake news without shutting out its purveyors entirely.