Like many other journalists who have written against press censorship for decades, I don’t find it easy to support Facebook’s decision to ban former President Trump from its platform for another six months. But Facebook made the right decision. In fact, it should have been stronger — and extended to include other big liars around the world.
First and foremost, Facebook is a private company whose users agree to its terms and conditions. So this has nothing to do with state censorship, as Trump and his supporters want us to believe.
Trump agreed to Facebook’s rules when he joined the platform, and if he doesn’t like its decision to ban him, he can go to many other social-media networks and spread his crazy conspiracy theories.
Second, Facebook’s decision was made at the recommendation of the company’s independent 20-person advisory board made up of prominent journalists, constitutional lawyers and human-rights activists.
The board ruled on May 5 to uphold Facebook’s decision to ban Trump for his incitement of violence against a democratically elected government a day after his supporters took over the Capitol on Jan. 6, causing five deaths. Trump used Facebook “to incite violent insurrection against an elected government,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on Jan. 7.
In a speech on the morning of Jan. 6, Trump had invited the crowd to “walk down to the Capitol” and said that, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Third, as the world’s largest social-media network, Facebook should not be allowed to poison world democracies with fake news in order to expand its audiences and profits. Zuckerberg has done that for years, before a wave of criticism forced him to create the advisory board in 2018.
Earlier, Zuckerberg claimed that Facebook was not responsible for its content, unpersuasively arguing that it wasn’t a news organization, but a mere broadcaster of other companies’ content. In fact, Facebook — with its 2.8 billion users — is the world’s most powerful de facto news organization.
Facebook can’t shy away from its responsibility to spend more resources to check the accuracy of its content. Hiring content managers, fact checkers and attorneys is expensive, but that’s what all news organizations are supposed to do.
Facebook’s independent advisory board’s ruling was far from perfect — among other things, it decided to revert the final decision on Trump’s ban to Zuckerberg, asking him to make a final decision on the matter within six months. That’s a dangerous decision, considering that Zuckerberg has a financial interest in getting Trump’s estimated 35 million Facebook followers back on his platform.
If Zuckerberg allows Trump to get back in six months and continue to spread the ridiculous lie that he won the 2020 elections, and inciting his followers to break the rule of law, America’s already fragile democracy will be further endangered.
Remember, the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court, former Vice President Mike Pence and top Trump appointees — including his FBI director and attorney general — were among those who determined that Joe Biden won the 2020 elections.
But Facebook should do much more than extend Trump’s ban indefinitely, as Twitter has already done.
It should end its double standard whereby it allows public figures to spread fake news under the argument they are newsworthy, while banning the same statements when they are made by regular people. It should work the other way around: Politicians should be held to higher standards than the rest of us.
And, in addition to banning Trump permanently, it should do the same with other heads of state who incite violence or break their countries’ rule of law, including Venezuela’s dictator Nicolas Maduro and many other autocrats.
Maduro’s Facebook account was suspended for 30 days on March 27 for spreading COVID-19 misinformation, but he’s now back on the platform.
At the least, Facebook should start by flagging their most dangerous lies with unambiguous labels such as, “This is false,” with a link to credible fact-checkers or democratically elected institutions.
As Facebook’s advisory board admitted, heads of state “can have a greater power to cause harm than other people.” Unless their social-media messages are checked with the same rigor as those from the rest of us, democracy will subverted by shameless liars.
Don’t miss the Oppenheimer Presenta tv show on Sunday at 8 p.m. E.T. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera