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Facebook: Steve Bannon’s call for Anthony Fauci to be beheaded do not break its rules, Zuckerberg says

‘We have specific rules around how many times you need to violate certain policies before we will deactivate your account completely,’ Zuckerberg said

Adam Smith
Friday 13 November 2020 10:53 GMT
(Getty Images)
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Steve Bannon did not violate “enough” of Facebook’s policies when he suggested US officials be beheaded, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.

Bannon, a former advisor to president Donald Trump and the ex- executive chairman of Breitbart News, said in a video that FBI Director Christopher Wray and government infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci should be beheaded for disloyalty to Mr Trump.

"I'd put the heads on pikes. Right. I'd put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats. You either get with the program or you are gone," Bannon said in the video.

“That’s how you won the revolution. No one wants to talk about it. The revolution wasn’t some sort of garden party, right? It was a civil war. It was a civil war.”

The comments were made on Bannon’s podcast, The War Room. The podcast’s Twitter account was subsequently suspended.

Facebook removed the video but Bannon’s Facebook page, which has approximately 175,000 followers, remains active.

"We have specific rules around how many times you need to violate certain policies before we will deactivate your account completely," Zuckerberg said, according to Reuters who obtained a recording of the CEO’s comments in response to a question from a Facebook employee on why Bannon had not been banned.

"While the offenses here, I think, came close to crossing that line, they clearly did not cross the line."

Facebook will take further action against Bannon’s page "if there are additional violations", according to Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone.

Representatives for Bannon claimed that the comments were "clearly meant metaphorically" and which referenced a comment that Bannon had made a day earlier about the treason trial of Thomas More "for rhetorical purposes."

"Mr. Bannon did not, would not and has never called for violence of any kind," the spokeswoman, Alexandra Preate, said in a statement.

Anthony Fauci described the situation as “really kind of unusual”, and not something he was taught to deal with in medical college. 

“You know, people calling for you to be beheaded, fired, thrown into the fire pit, or whatever, that’s just noise” he added.  “You don’t pay attention to that.”

Bannon had also been recently found to be involved in a network of misinformation pages about the United States presidential election, which was won by Democrat Joe Biden.

The activist group Avaaz said seven of the largest pages had amassed nearly 2.5 million followers. Stone said Facebook had removed "several clusters of activity for using inauthentic behaviour tactics to artificially boost how many people saw their content."

Content was published synchronously across multiple pages, with links laundered through a far-right news aggregation website. This meant that the original URLs for stories Facebook had already flagged as misinformation were slightly more hidden.

Nevertheless, Avaaz said that it had alerted Facebook to a misinformation network of 180 Bannon-connected pages and groups prior to this revelation. 

Facebook has been repeatedly criticised for its response to right-wing figures on its platform. The social media giant allegedly fired a senior Facebook engineer who collected evidence of the company providing preferential treatment to right-wing pages for breaking its “respectful communication policy.” 

That employee found that right-wing publisher Breitbart News, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, Trump advocates Diamond and Silk, and conservative video maker Prager University (PragerU) have all received preferential treatment to stop their posts being blocked by Facebook’s policies.

Another employee who have left the company claimed that she had “blood on [her] hands by now” due to the extent and power of Facebook’s political disruption.

The company also reportedly changed its news feed algorithm in 2017 to reduce the visibility of left-leaning news sites like Mother Jones, plans that were apparently approved personally by Mark Zuckerberg.

In the recorded meeting, one employee asked Zuckerberg how Facebook was handling criticism from Biden. The president-elect had told the New York Times in December 2019 that he had "never been a fan of Facebook" and considered Zuckerberg "a real problem."

The incoming administration is "not monolithic," Zuckerberg said in response.

"Just because some people might talk in a way that's more antagonistic to us, it doesn't necessarily mean that speaks for what the whole group or whole administration is going to stand for."

Biden has also said that he would support changing Section 230, which protects US websites for being held liable for content uploaded by users.

Zuckerberg has also made similar comments, saying that the debate over the legislation “shows that people of all political persuasions are unhappy with the status quo”.

However, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, CEO of Alphabet and Google, Sundar Pichai, and Benjamin Lee, of Reddit's general counsel,  have all defended the legislation because of the difficulties it would present in legally moderating and removing content.

Additional reporting by agencies

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