Get the latest market trends in your inbox

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with the Axios Markets newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the past week, Facebook and Twitter have codified a dual-class system for free speech: one set of rules for politicians or "world leaders," another for the rest of us.

Why it matters: Social media platforms are privately owned spaces that have absorbed a huge chunk of our public sphere, and the rules they're now hashing out will shape the information climate around elections for years to come.

Why now? President Trump's campaign placed ads this month that made false statements about Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Biden's campaign asked media outlets and digital platforms to stop running the ads; CNN took then down, but Facebook kept them up.

  • Then Sen. Elizabeth Warren provoked Facebook with a deliberately misleading Facebook ad that claimed the company had endorsed Trump — before admitting that was a ruse to expose flaws in Facebook's policy. Facebook kept that ad up, too.
  • Meanwhile, over on Twitter, Sen. Kamala Harris has been demanding that Trump's account get the boot for the president's repeated attacks on the Ukraine whistleblower, among others.

The big picture: Online forums have always faced fights over "where you draw the line." But now that the troll vs. moderator game is being played on the stage of national politics, neither Facebook nor Twitter wants to play at all. Their solution: carve out some special rights for politicians.

How it works on Facebook
  • Facebook's policy lets politicians make just about any claim they want, in ads or posts, including repeating verbatim a false claim that has already been labeled elsewhere as false. That means they can misstate their own record or that of an opponent.

What pols can't say in Facebook ads or posts:

  • They can't misstate details about the voting process, such as when an election is taking place, the rules or how to vote.
  • Their ads can't include profanity, as Trump's campaign found out.
  • They can't embed social media posts that have been flagged by a fact-checker.
  • While not held to standards on factual matters, they have to follow Facebook's other community standards, such as those on hate speech.

Between the lines: It gets even messier, as politicians can take an already debunked claim and repeat it in their own ads. A regular user, meanwhile, can't take a false claim from a politician's ad and repeat the same words without violating Facebook's rules. They are, though, free to share that politician's ad.

How it works on Twitter

Twitter defines a class of "world leader" users who "are or represent a government/elected official, are running for public office, or are being considered for a government position," and who also have more than 100,000 followers and are verified.

  • In theory, world leaders are supposed to follow the rules that apply to everyone else. That would mean no threats of violence, no promoting terrorism, no engaging in targeted harassment, and no harassing people of a particular race, religion, sexuality or gender.
  • But Twitter says it may leave up the posts even if politicians break the rules due to the "newsworthiness" of their comments.
  • The company says it reserves the right to limit the promotion of such tweets and to prominently note that the content has violated Twitter's rules. But it hasn't ever taken this step since announcing the policy in June.

The bottom line: Each platform's rules have their own quirks. But both are dividing their users into two groups — and giving one of them fundamentally broader freedom to violate ethical and social norms in their postings and not be penalized.

The outlier: Google-owned YouTube says its policies are not "speaker-based" but aimed at content.

  • "Everyone that uploads videos on YouTube is subject to our policies, including politicians," according to YouTube spokesperson Farshad Shadloo.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Bipartisan group of senators seeks coronavirus stimulus deal

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At least eight Republican and Democratic senators have formed a working group aimed at securing new coronavirus spending during the lame-duck session, a move favored by President-elect Biden, two sources familiar with the group tell Axios.

Why it matters: It may be the most significant bipartisan step toward COVID relief in months.

FCC chairman to depart in January

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ajit Pai will leave his post as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Jan. 20, the agency said today.

Why it matters: Pai's Inauguration Day departure is in keeping with agency tradition, and could set up the Biden administration with a 2-1 Democratic majority at the FCC if the Senate fails to confirm another Trump nominee during the lame-duck period.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

GM's shrinking deal with Nikola

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

General Motors will no longer take an equity stake in Nikola Corp. or build its pickup truck, under a revised deal that still envisions GM as a key tech supplier for Nikola's planned line of electric and fuel cell heavy trucks.

Driving the news: The revised agreement Monday is smaller in scope than a draft partnership rolled out in September that had included a $2 billion stake in the startup and an agreement to build its Badger pickup.