Facebook Deletes Whistleblower’s Name⁠—But Fake News Reportedly Still A Problem

Topline: Facebook said Friday it’s deleting mentions of the alleged whistleblower’s name for violating the social network’s “coordinating harm policy,” following a Thursday report from Harvard University that says the platform’s users can still easily share fake news.

  • The Associated Press reported that the name of the alleged whistleblower has been identified by conservative circles.
  • And Facebook, citing its “coordinating harm policy,” said it is deleting all mentions of that person’s name because anything that potentially outs a “witness, informant or activist” is prohibited.
  • A Facebook spokesperson also said the decision could be revisited if the person’s name is “widely published in the media or used by public figures.”
  • Despite Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news (including a just-launched News Tab that controversially includes ultra-conservative Breitbart as a partner), Harvard’s Nieman Lab reported Thursday that it’s still easy for users to share stories the platform flagged for containing “False Information.” 
  • Meanwhile, CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a nearly hour-long speech October 17 at Georgetown University that focused on giving people a voice, helping them come together and reducing harm through Facebook.
  • It’s unclear whether Facebook is removing mentions of the alleged whistleblower’s name from posts made by media organizations or individual users, and Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment on their policy enforcement and content moderation decisions.

Crucial quote: “All of this work is about enforcing our existing policies, not broadening our definition of what is dangerous. If we do this well, we should be able to stop a lot of harm while fighting back against putting additional restrictions on speech,” said Zuckerberg during his Georgetown speech.

Key background: Donald Trump Jr. got into hot water Wednesday for outing the alleged whistleblower by tweeting a link containing their name. Conservative and right-wing media have been actively working to spread that person’s name, but major news outlets have declined to print it. Federal law gives whistleblowers protection from criminal prosecution and workplace retaliation. But President Trump has repeatedly called for the person’s identity to be released. The lawyers representing the whistleblower sent a cease-and-desist letter to Trump Friday, asking for him to stop demanding the person’s identity be made public. He responded by saying the lawyers should be sued “maybe for treason.”

News peg: House Democrats launched Trump’s impeachment inquiry September 24. It stemmed from the whistleblower’s report that alleged Trump sought help from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. The report, along with released partial transcripts of a July phone call between Trump and Zelensky, became the basis of the Democrats’ inquiry.

What to watch for: If conservatives view Facebook’s decision to delete the alleged whistleblower’s name as an act of suppression. They have repeatedly claimed their viewpoints are silenced on social media.