San Francisco Chronicle
Facebook’s long goodbye to Trump
Never in the field of human communications was so much deliberation dedicated to a decision so obvious as Donald Trump’s newly ratified expulsion from Facebook. The thenpresident’s incitement of the worst postCivil War assault on the United States government from within finally imbued Mark Zuckerberg with the courage to suspend Trump from the platform indefinitely in January. Four months later, the Menlo Parkbased media giant remains engaged in an indefinite bout of handwringing over its rare and incremental assumption of accountability.
The oversight body that Zuckerberg has called Facebook’s “supreme court,” which has the advantage to him of not being a court in any respect, ruled Wednesday that the company was justified in prohibiting the insurrectionistinchief from further instant communications with legions of willing rioters. Perhaps it shouldn’t have taken a panel of 20 journalists, activists and lawyers that long to reach that conclusion, but the decision has the virtue of being right.
The Facebookappointed board also took issue with the company’s opting for an indefinite suspension, a penalty not found in its own rules. That seems to have been Zuckerberg’s way of splitting the difference between two kinds of punishments his policies do allow for: suspensions for a defined period and permanent bans. As such, the oversight board kicked the matter back to the company and urged it to pick one or the other within six months.
The absurd upshot is that Facebook could spend the better part of a year debating whether it should continue to facilitate the overthrow of the democratic government of the country in which it happens to be headquartered.
Even a quick and decisive postinsurrection ban of Trump wouldn’t begin to grapple with Facebook’s role in facilitating the misinformation, polarization and extremism that helped elect him and created the conditions for the Capitol attack. That the company can’t quite seem to do the right thing even in the aftermath suggests scant capacity for fundamental reform.
Contrary to Trump and Zuckerberg, Facebook’s dissemination of the former president’s disinformation has little to do with constitutional free speech rights, which protect private actors from government oppression. What’s at issue is the company’s failure to exer
cise its own rights with care by accepting or even acknowledging its responsibility as one of the world’s most powerful publishers.