Facebook must publish editorial guidelines which appear to allow users to call for the death of public figures
The National Union of Journalists has called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to publish full details of editorial guidelines which the union says raise "fundamental questions about the standards set by Facebook in the treatment of a wide range of public figures and people who may find themselves in the public spotlight".
Facebook guidelines dating from December 2020, leaked to the Guardian, appear to allow bullying, harassment and calls for the death of public figures, including all politicians including the most local, celebrities with an online following, people in the news and journalists employed "to write/speak publicly".
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary and Séamus Dooley, assistant general secretary, described the leaked guidelines as "outrageous and dangerous".
"The CEO must publish the full guidelines and clarify if they are currently being implemented. There is a supreme irony in the fact that Facebook is refusing to publish this material while also arguing that individuals must be held not up to public account but open to abuse by virtue of a public status decided upon by the company.
"The concept that people may be open to abuse and threats simply because they stand for office, hold down a job or are feature prominently in social media because of circumstances outside their control must be abhorrent to those who are committed to an ethical approach to the dissemination of information. The right to freedom of expression is precious and must be jealously guarded. Their guidelines have nothing got to go with public accountability or freedom of expression and raise fundamental questions about Facebook's values.
"They suggest that anyone who finds themselves in the news are fair game for the vile comments too often seen on social media platforms. These can cause real distress and, where death threats are included, deep fear for those targeted. Those who participate in the democratic process by standing for election expect public scrutiny but that does not mean surrendering the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
"Mainstream broadcasters and publications are bound by rules, regulation and codes of conduct; members of the NUJ follow the ethical journalism set out in its union's code of conduct.
"The UK government recently launched its National Action Plan for the safety of journalists and the NUJ played a significant role in that initiative. Ministers must use their power to tackle personal attacks permitted by Facebook on the press. The UK government must use is Online Harms bill to take on the tech giants and their total disregard for decency in public discourse. Given Facebook's connections with Ireland, we hope the Irish government will also raise concerns at these revelations."