TechnologyFacebook sustains Trump ban, calls for re-evaluation

Facebook sustains Trump ban, calls for re-evaluation

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Washington, United States: On Wednesday, Facebook’s independent oversight board upheld the platform’s ban on former US President Donald Trump while ordering a re-examination of the case, in a move that could have far-reaching implications for online speech regulation.

Trump’s remarks about his supporters’ rampage at the US Capitol on January 6 “created an atmosphere where a significant risk of violence was possible,” according to the board, whose recommendations are binding on the leading social network.

“Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7,” the board said after its review.

But the panel also ruled that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.”

“Within six months of this decision, Facebook must reexamine the arbitrary penalty it imposed on January 7 and decide the appropriate penalty,” the review board said in its written opinion.

BREAKING: Trump @facebook suspension upheld.

Decision announced moments ago by the Facebook @OversightBoard. pic.twitter.com/grmj7GxeUu

— John Scott-Railton (@jsrailton) May 5, 2021

Facebook cannot hold a user off the site for an indefinite period of time with no conditions for when or when the account will be restored, it continued.

The case was closely watched for its potential ramifications for social media platforms attempting to combat disinformation and offensive material while remaining open to democratic debate.

Trump was suspended from Facebook and Instagram after he posted a video during the deadly January 6 storming of the Capitol in which he told his supporters: “We love you, you’re very special.”

The next day, Facebook permanently blocked the US president, and he was also removed from other social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube.

Some critics believe Facebook and other social media platforms should have taken action against Trump earlier, after granting him an exemption from hate speech laws for years due to his “newsworthiness” as a political figure.

Making the rules more clear 

The oversight board made further suggestions on coping with potentially harmful material from world leaders in its ruling, which was envisioned by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as the equivalent of a “supreme court” for thorny content decisions.

“It is not always helpful to draw a firm distinction between political leaders and other prominent users,” the board said in a statement, “recognizing that other users with large audiences can also contribute to serious risks of damage.”

“When posts by influential users pose a high probability of imminent harm, Facebook should act quickly to enforce its rules.”

The board also “called on Facebook to address widespread confusion about how decisions relating to influential users are made” and said, “considerations of newsworthiness should not take priority when urgent action is needed to prevent significant harm.”

In response to the ruling, Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows said it would chill free speech and that Facebook needed to be monitored or broken up.

“It’s a sad day for America, it’s a sad day for Facebook,” he told Fox News.

“We need to have some standards, they are not able to police themselves.”

Angelo Carusone, president of the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters for America, said the ruling was “appropriate,” arguing that the rationale for banning Trump was overwhelming and “never should have been up for debate.”

Trump ban ruling marks defining moment for Facebook panel

As controversy rages over the role of social media in curbing hateful and abusive speech while allowing political dialogue, Facebook’s independent oversight board was gearing up Tuesday for a pivotal decision on the platform’s ban of former US President Donald Trump.

The ruling, which is scheduled to be released at 1300 GMT on Wednesday, is expected to be a watershed moment for Facebook’s so-called “supreme court,” which was envisioned by company founder Mark Zuckerberg to make difficult decisions about whether to approve or ban from the social media platform.

The oversight board, which takes decisions that are final and cannot be appealed, will decide whether to keep the Trump ban in effect or allow him to return to Facebook. It can also make suggestions to the social media behemoth headquartered in California.

“This is a huge decision, it’s getting a lot of attention and deservedly so,” said Daniel Kreiss, University of North Carolina professor and researcher specializing in politics and social media.

“This is significant for the global precedent it will set. If they uphold the ruling I think you will see more robust enforcement around the world.”

The oversight panel, which is made up of jurists, policy experts, journalists, and others from all over the world, will make perhaps its most important decision at a time when social media outlets are struggling to keep political dialogue-free while filtering out incitement to violence, disinformation, and offensive comments.

Trump was banned from Facebook after his supporters recorded him saying, “We love you, you’re very special,” during the deadly January 6 rampage at the US Capitol.

The next day, Facebook permanently blocked the US president, and he was also removed from other social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube.

Is it too late? 

Some critics believe Facebook and other social media platforms should have taken action against Trump earlier, after granting him an exemption from hate speech laws for years due to his “newsworthiness” as a political figure.

“If anything, the decision to originally ban … Trump should have come much earlier,” said Samuel Woolley, a University of Texas professor specializing in computational propaganda.

“He was using Facebook and other platforms to actively spread patently false content about electoral processes — very effectively undermining US democracy.”

Facebook itself referred the case to the review board, citing its belief that company executives should not be in charge of content or political speech decisions. In this case, the panel has received over 9,000 views.

However, Trump supporters have slammed the move by Facebook and others, claiming that big tech outlets are biassed and stifle dissenting viewpoints.

Others, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called Facebook’s decision “problematic,” and civil liberties advocates, have expressed concern about the ban.

The problem, according to Jameel Jaffer, executive director of Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, is more complicated than simply assessing Trump’s remarks.

“I’m hopeful the board will use this case as an opportunity to put a spotlight on Facebook’s decisions about the design of its platform,” Jaffer said.

“These engineering decisions are often invisible, but they determine which speech proliferates on the platform, how quickly it spreads, who sees it, and in what context they see it.”

In its submission to the board, the institute said Facebook should conduct “an independent study of how its platform may have contributed to the events of January 6” and that the panel should rule on Trump “only after the company has provided it with the results of that study.”

The ruling is unlikely to put an end to the content moderation debate, according to Elizabeth Renieris, director of the Notre Dame-IBM Technology Ethics Lab.

“The board’s analysis and reasoning in this instance could very well help shape the policies of Facebook and other digital platforms regarding how to treat political leaders and other public figures in the future,” she said.

“Whatever the decision, we should remain uneasy about the fact that decisions of this nature are being made by unelected, unaccountable corporations and their self-appointed assessors.”

With AFP inputs. 

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