Facebook’s self-selected oversight board today backed the company’s decision to suspend Donald Trump’s accounts after the Jan. 6 insurrection. This is honestly better news than we expected — but the board kicked the ultimate decision down the road for another six-month review.
Bottom line: This decision doesn’t confront Facebook’s hate-and-lie-for-profit model, nor is the Oversight Board designed to do so. While there might be smart and credentialed people on the board, this is still a Facebook-funded PR exercise that obscures much larger problems and evades the broader reckoning we need with the monster Zuckerberg & Co. have created.
Today’s ruling won’t end Facebook’s practice of allowing political leaders to break the rules, sow violence and undermine democracies. It won’t lead to any meaningful action against the scores of white supremacists who still use its services. It won’t touch the greed-driven incentives that compel Facebook to trade public safety for corporate profit.
As part of the same toxic apparatus, the Oversight Board cannot be trusted to issue independent decisions in future cases. Its power is illusory — and as Free Press argued recently in this piece for Wired, the best thing for board members to do is resign in protest unless Facebook takes immediate steps to change its poisonous business model.
What’s needed to create real change
Instead of more Band-Aids and back-patting, the company must create new transparent policies and invest in stronger enforcement mechanisms to stop the multilingual spread of hate and disinformation that endangers diverse communities and sabotages democracies.
Facebook should impose a permanent ban on ex-President Trump. That’s obvious, and the evidence is in: Research from Zignal Labs found that election misinformation declined by 73 percent the week that Trump was deplatformed. There’s no good reason that deciding whether to take down a serial spreader of racism, lies and violence in clear violation of company policies should take this long.
Let’s be clear: Facebook banned Trump and referred his case to the board only because public pressure demanded that it do so. Now we need to keep the pressure on so that the company will not only ban Trump permanently but go a lot further to address its fundamental and enduring problems.
The real work — but not the work this oversight board is designed to do — is to root out the systemic rot in the hate-and-lie-for-profit business model of social media. That will take a multi-pronged and multi-year effort that will require pressure on the corporations, government action and oversight, and a deep commitment to power-building and organizing.
That’s the work we’re aiming to do here at Free Press in collaboration and coordination with an array of allies and partners. Our growing alliance is gaining influence and momentum, but this next period will be crucial to any hope of reining in Facebook and laying the foundation for a more just and accountable media system.
Today’s decision could serve as a smokescreen for Facebook. Or it could be a pivotal moment in the fight against disinformation and hate — and the beginning of real change.