Leaked Facebook moderation rules show the company is more lenient on bullying if the abuse is directed at celebrities

Meghan markle prince harry
Meghan Markle has been the target of intense abuse on social media. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/WPA Pool/Getty Images
  • The Guardian obtained a leaked set of Facebook moderation guidelines.
  • The document shows how it gives “public figures” fewer bullying protections than private individuals.
  • “Public figures” covers a wide array of people, including journalists and those with 100,000+ followers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A 300-page document leaked to The Guardian reveals how Facebook trains its moderators to classify and remove abusive content.

The document, which is from December 2020, lays out Facebook’s policy for its army of moderators. It shows that Facebook applies its bullying and harassment policy differently to famous people compared to private individuals.

People defined as “Public figures” can have abuse targeted at them that Facebook would ordinarily take down, including “calls for [their] death.” In the guidance for moderators, Facebook said it permits this because it wants to “allow discussion, which often includes critical commentary of people who are featured in the news.”

It adds that moderators should remove attacks that are “severe” or which tag the person directly.

“For private individuals, our protection goes further: we remove content that’s meant to degrade or shame, including, for example, claims about someone’s sexual activity,” the guidance said.

Some celebrities, including Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, have criticised social media companies for the levels of abuse they receive on their platforms.

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The definition of a person’s fame boils down to how often they appear in the news. “People who are mentioned in the title, subtitle or preview of five or more news articles or media pieces within the last two years,” is Facebook’s definition – although it makes a blanket exception for people under the age of 13.

The documents also classify people with more than 100,000 followers online as “public figures.”

Facebook’s definition of “public figures” is not purely based on fame – all politicians count, as well as journalists.

There is also an exception given for “involuntary” public figures, which Facebook defines as people who: “are not true celebrities, and who have not engaged with their fame, UNLESS they have been accused of criminal activity.”

Responding to The Guardian’s report, a Facebook spokesperson told Insider: “We think it’s important to allow critical discussion of politicians and other people in the public eye. But that doesn’t mean we allow people to abuse or harass them on our apps. We remove hate speech and threats of serious harm no matter who the target is, and we’re exploring more ways to protect public figures from harassment. We regularly consult with safety experts, human rights defenders, journalists and activists to get feedback on our policies and make sure they’re in the right place.”

The spokesperson also emphasised that the platform draws a distinction between calls for death and death threats.