How do tech giants police world leaders on social media?

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[Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, saying on March 25th, 2021:] "We suspended the former president's (Donald Trump) account. Now, many people are concerned that platforms can ban elected leaders. I am, too."

We’re in a new age of political communication.

In the past, the way information was managed from leaders was fairly straightforward.

Now, there’s a whole world of social media sites, which are grappling with how to police world leaders and politicians who violate their guidelines.

Former Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is a member of Facebook's oversight board.

"They can't make up the rules are they go along [...] all users should basically be equal and that they have to follow their own standards, their own rules."

Here is how some of the big tech giants handle the thorny issue of how to manage world leaders on their platforms.

Most platforms have rules that give greater latitude to world leaders, elected officials and political candidates.

Facebook, for example, has a "newsworthiness exemption", allowing politicians' rule-breaking posts if the public interest outweighs the harm.

[Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying:] “The system isn't perfect, but it's the best approach that we've found…”

Twitter says it errs on the side of leaving content up when it is in the public interest, including keeping a record to hold leaders accountable.

[Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, saying:] “Different businesses and services will have different policies, some more liberal than others, and we believe it's critical this variety continues to exist.”

YouTube says it does not have different rules for world leaders, though it has loopholes that allow certain news coverage of politicians making rule-breaking statements.

Most sites, then, base their policies on a balance of harm versus public interest.

But where the red line of leniency should lie isn’t always straightforward.

Take former U.S. president Donald Trump.

After the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, Trump was banned or indefinitely suspended from a slew of sites including Twitter, Snapchat, Twitch and Facebook.

[Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs and communication, saying on January 21, 2021:] “Was it a controversial decision because he was the president of the United States? It actually wasn't a particularly complicated one to take, given it was so obvious to us that that was contrary to the long standing policies we have in place applied, as I say, to politicians as well as to non-politicians."

Some saw the bans as too little too late.

Others - a worrying act of censorship.

For Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the political climate justified the decision.

He said the risks of allowing Trump to use Facebook were, quote, "simply too great."

Human rights groups have implored for consistency when it comes to other global leaders.

Take Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has used Twitter to call for Israel's elimination.

Or Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, who posted discriminatory content on indigenous citizens on Facebook.

In March, Facebook put a 30-day freeze on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's page for spreading COVID-19 misinformation.

Earlier this year, it also banned Myanmar’s military after they took power in a coup.

Both Facebook and Twitter have called for input on their rules.

Twitter opened a public survey - and Facebook created an independent oversight board to rule on a small slice of challenging content decisions.

[Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, saying on March 25th, 2021:] “I don't think that private companies should make so many decisions like this alone. We need an accountable process, which is why we create an independent oversight board that can overrule our decisions."

The board will spend the next six months determining a quote, “proportionate response” to Trump’s suspension, a verdict that may chart how social media will treat rule-breaking leaders in the future.

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