Monday, April 12, 2021

Debate rages as Facebook prepares to say whether Trump can return | Facebook


Facebook is expected to announce imminently whether it will allow Donald Trump to return to the platform after banning him more than a month ago.

The decision will be the most consequential yet made by Facebook’s Oversight Board, a group of 20 members who range from humanitarian activists and religious experts to lawyers and a former prime minister. The board, which launched in late 2020, is meant to function as an independent arm of the social platform, making binding decisions on a selection of its thorniest content moderation issues.

The debate over the former president’s account has garnered a record 9,000 comments in advance of the decision, which could be announced as early as this week.

Trump was removed on 7 January following his encouragement of an insurrection of the US Capitol the day prior, but he had for years used his Facebook account to share misinformation and violent rhetoric with his millions of followers. Hundreds of civil rights advocates submitted comments in advance of the decision saying that reinstating Trump’s account would again allow those problems to flourish on the site.

“The Board must acknowledge that Trump’s social media presence has made not just Facebook users but the entire world less safe,” wrote Change the Terms, a coalition of more than 60 human rights groups. “It must act in defense of the people we represent and not reverse Facebook’s decision on a process foul.”

Another prominent voice in favor of a permanent Trump ban is Facebook’s former security chief Alex Stamos, who signed a letter along with a number of other prominent voices urging against Trump’s return.

“The eventual deplatforming of Trump’s accounts helped defuse a dangerous and antidemocratic situation,” said the letter sent by a group of researchers and lawyers including Stamos. “Trump’s actions justified the step of indefinitely deplatforming him.”

Many groups have noted Facebook’s issues with extremism and misinformation do not begin and end with Trump. The platform must also improve its policies and how they are implemented, said the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 220 national organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“Facebook’s suspension of Trump is a step in the right direction toward countering misuse of its platform,” the coalition said. “His account should be suspended permanently to stop the spread of his lies and to prevent any further incitement to violence.”

In a letter, the coalition also called on Facebook to better enforce its policies on election integrity, voter interference, and hate speech, “and not pick and choose when it will enforce its standards” and more swiftly remove voter suppression content on the platform.

Others have criticized the nature of the oversight board and those appointed to it. A group formed of scholars, advocates and activists, including those from Color of Change and the Anti-Defamation League, has formed to criticize the board, calling itself “the Real Facebook Oversight Board”. It said in a letter Facebook should make its own decisions rather than outsource them to the board. It also called for more robust legislation to rein in these issues.

“Facebook cannot be trusted to do this and [neither] they – nor a board appointed by them – should be allowed to make decisions like these,” the advocacy group wrote. “Real oversight must be combined with other critically needed reforms: laws that change financial incentives for big tech, heavy regulation and a reckoning with the algorithms that are laying waste to democratic society.”

Trump was banned permanently from Twitter, seemingly his preferred platform, in January. Twitter company has said that ban will be permanent – even if Trump runs for office again. Facebook did not respond to request for comment regarding when the Trump decision would be announced.

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