Trump is Facebook’s problem, again
Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesYour move, Mark. Donald Trump will stay off Facebook for now, Facebook’s new oversight board decided on Wednesday. But will he eventually come back?
In an unexpected decision, the oversight board insisted that it is not its job to decide, but Facebook’s.
“In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities,” reads the ruling. “The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.”
While the board did rule that Facebook was justified to suspend Trump in the wake of the January 6 Capitol riot, it said Facebook should have clearer standards for why it did this, and it must determine how long the suspension will last. The board gave the company six months to go back to the drawing board and clarify the length of Trump’s suspension, or decide to delete his account altogether.
Essentially, the board put the long-term problem of what to do about Trump back in the hands of the person who seems to want it least: CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook has “shirked its responsibilities”
Facebook’s oversight board — which has been likened to its “Supreme Court” — is a quasi-judicial body that Facebook tasked with handling some of its toughest content moderation decisions. The board is currently made up of 20 international human rights lawyers, activists, journalists, and former government officials. Facebook says it has granted the board full autonomy to make its own decisions separate from the company, and funded it with $130 million.
The biggest criticism of Facebook’s new oversight board has been that it is a way for Facebook — specifically Zuckerberg — to punt the responsibility of making difficult decisions.
With its decision today, the board punted back. In fact, the board has said that it was wrong for Facebook to refer the case to them at all. Facebook didn’t follow its own rules in not setting a time limit for Trump’s suspension, in the board’s view, and failed to follow a “clear procedure.” That’s a startling rebuke of how Facebook operates.
“Facebook’s decision to impose an indefinite suspension wasn’t supported by their own rules. And then to request the oversight board to endorse this move was actually wrong,” said the board’s co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt at a press conference on Wednesday morning. Thorning-Schmidt repeatedly said that the company had “shirked its responsibilities” in its handling of the Trump suspension.
When asked what she thought Facebook’s reaction would be to the board’s decision, Thorning-Schmidt said that the company should appreciate it — but it’s hard to imagine Zuckerberg as completely thrilled with this outcome.
In a statement, Facebook said, “We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate.” It said Trump’s accounts would remain suspended in the meantime.
“What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country,” Trump wrote in a statement shortly after the board’s decision. “These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our Electoral Process.”
Facebook is under intense political scrutiny from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who claim Zuckerberg and his stewards cave to partisan pressure in how they apply company rules about what people can and can’t say on Facebook. Republicans have long accused Facebook of censoring conservative viewpoints, while many Democrats say the company isn’t doing enough to remove misinformation that’s spread by some Republican politicians.
Facebook has insisted since its start that it is a neutral platform and that it is not its job to regulate political speech; in some ways, it created the oversight board to handle that thorny problem. Wednesday’s decision — which could be read as a rebuke of the company — makes it clear the board won’t do that job for Facebook.
A decision that opens more questions than it answers
The Trump case is by far the most high-profile and consequential decision the board has made to date — even though it isn’t quite as declarative as many expected.
The decision has momentous implications for what world leaders are allowed to say on social media, and for free speech on the internet as a whole. It confirms that Facebook was right to block Trump for inciting violence in January, but it leaves open the question of whether or not a social media platform should ban a world leader entirely.
During his four years in office, Trump repeatedly spread misleading and inflammatory statements on Facebook and Twitter — from denying the threat of Covid-19 to saber-rattling about a potential nuclear conflict — and he did so largely without consequences. World leaders are shielded by social media companies’ “newsworthiness” exception, which said rules for regular people, that ban them fro
May 6, 2021 - VOX
Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesYour move, Mark. Donald Trump will stay off Facebook for now, Facebook’s new oversight board decided on Wednesday. But will he eventually come back? In an unexpected decision, the oversight board insisted that it is not its job to decide, but Facebook’s. “In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities,” reads the ruling. “The Board declines Facebook’s request..