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Facebook has nearly 2 billion daily users, annual revenues that rival the GDPs of some countries, and even its own version of the Supreme Court: The Censorship Board, which the company set up to review its tougher decisions about what people can post on its platforms. .
The board this week faced its biggest test yet when it decided whether Facebook should allow former President Donald Trump to return to its social network.
The Commission She upheld the company’s decision To remove Trump after the January 6 mutiny at the US Capitol – it was discovered that he had violated Facebook’s rules on praising violence – but slammed the suspension indefinitely and returned the case to the company to either ban Trump permanently or set a timeframe of time he can return.
Even former Danish Prime Minister Helly Thorning Schmidt, a co-chair of the board, called the company “a bit lazy” for failing to define a specific penalty in the first place.
The social networking site Facebook He said He is now considering the judgment and will establish a “clear and proportionate” procedure.
The board’s response in this case may have been more than Facebook was relying on when it created the advisory board. But the decision – and the public response to it this week – reveals the scale and power of the challenge Facebook poses to anyone who wants to hold the company accountable.
“They cannot invent penalties as they go along.”
In many respects, the resolution The council that was released is more about Facebook than about Trump.
The board has focused on something critics have said for a long time: The way Facebook enforces its rules may seem arbitrary. It is often unclear what rules are applied and why.
When it came to Trump, the board said the indefinite suspension did not appear anywhere in its rulebook and violated free speech principles.
“What we’re telling Facebook is that they can’t create penalties as they go along. They have to stick to their own rules,” Thorning-Schmidt said. Interview With Axios.
She said this kind of arbitrary decision, taken on the spot, helped fuel allegations that Facebook was biased.
“We will get rid of this talk about Facebook’s tendency to certain political opinions only when we reach a stage in which all decisions on Facebook and Instagram are made with transparency and clarity, and in which all users are judged by the same standard,” she said. .
Questioning Facebook’s “newsworthiness” policy
The board has also pushed Facebook to be more transparent about how it engages with political leaders and other high-profile accounts in a broader set of recommendations.
The board said that a company should generally apply its rules equally, regardless of whether the user is the boss or a layman.
But she acknowledged that people with large audiences, such as politicians or celebrities, can do tremendous harm – and said Facebook should act more quickly when those users break the rules.
This differs from the way Facebook – and Twitter for that matter – currently deals with politicians and other public figures. Both companies have cuts from their rules on matters of public interest, and the Facebook CEO said the company should err on the side of permitting. More political talk. In practical terms, this has meant that Trump has apparently been able to elude posting things that may have banned the average Facebook user.
The board said Facebook should do a better job explaining the “merit to post” policy and how to apply it to “influential accounts.” Under this policy, Facebook does not delete posts that violate its rules if the company believes they are “worthy of publication and in the public interest.” (Facebook said it never applied this policy to any of Trump’s posts.)
The council said the vagueness of its news merit policy makes it appear as though Facebook “may be inappropriately influenced by political or business considerations” – in other words, it is avoiding criticism from Republicans or looking for the bottom line.
“The forum’s job is to make sure Facebook does its job.”
The board’s criticism was not limited to Facebook imposing what it called “an obscure, non-standard punishment.” The company has been criticized for trying to outsource its final verdict on Trump.
“Facebook has a responsibility to its users, its community and the wider public to make its own decisions,” Jamal Green, another co-chairman and professor of constitutional law in Colombia, said Thursday during a meeting. Aspen Institute event.
“The job of the board of directors is to make sure that Facebook does its job,” he said.
The tensions between the board’s view of the scope of its role and Facebook were also evident in the board’s disclosure that the company would not answer seven of the 46 questions it posed on the Trump case.
Questions that Facebook refused to answer included how its design and algorithms amplified the reach of Trump’s posts and contributed to the Capitol attack.
“Those that the company refused to respond to are specifically related to what happened before January 6,” Julie Ouno, a member of the oversight board and executive director of the digital rights group Internet Sans Frontières, said at the Aspen Institute event.
“Our decision states that you cannot make such an important decision, such a serious decision for freedom of expression and freedom of expression, without the appropriate context.”
“They are acting as though they are greater than the government.”
Critics have taken advantage of these shortcomings – such as the board’s inability to force Facebook to answer questions it does not want, and its lack of any legal or executive authority – to prove that the board is little more than a fig leaf to it. Facebook’s lack of accountability.
For many people across the political spectrum, this week’s decision confirmed whatever opinions they already had.
Legislators took the opportunity. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California, promise “To curb the great power of technology on our discourse” if the Republicans regain control of the room.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said she was happy that Trump would not return to Facebook but renewed her call to dismantle the Silicon Valley giants. “I don’t think Facebook should have that kind of power,” she said Cheddar News said. “We need to dismantle these tech giants, and Facebook is one of them. They are crushing competition and in cases like Facebook, they act like they’re bigger than the government.”
Rashad Robinson, head of the civil rights group Color Of Change, told National Public Radio (NPR) that the board is “a distraction” from what needs to be done to force change at Facebook: Congress organizing tech giants and their powerful leaders, such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“The question is, will our elected officials step up and stop allowing this lonely, unaccountable billionaire to have this kind of tremendous power in our democracy, our economy, and our media?” He said.
But while critics are unhappy with executives like Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey of Twitter making rude calls about the rhetoric online, there is resistance to the notion that the government should step in.
Thorning Schmidt, Co-Chair of the Censorship Board, said she is concerned that authoritarian governments are stifling freedom of expression online.
“This [Oversight Board] It might not be the perfect solution, but it is much better than Facebook doing it itself or the government making these decisions. “This setting might not be perfect, but I challenge anyone to come up with a better one.”
Editor’s note: Facebook is among NPR’s financial backers.