NEW YORK—Facebook announced today that it will suspend former President Trump’s accounts through January 2023 and will no longer automatically keep world leaders’ posts up on the platform. The change comes after the Facebook Oversight Board, last month, asked the platform to review its “standardless” decision to suspend Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University had urged the board to delay ruling on Trump’s suspension until Facebook commissions an independent study into how its design decisions may have contributed to the siege of the Capitol on January 6.
“While some of the steps that Facebook has taken today are welcome, it’s telling and disappointing that the company has mainly rejected the proposal—made by the Oversight Board as well as the Knight Institute—that it commission an independent study of how its platform contributed to the events of January 6,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute. “Facebook’s suggestion that all of the responsibility for the spread of disinformation on its platforms lies with Facebook’s users, rather than with Facebook, suggests a troubling indifference to how the company’s design and engineering decisions can distort public discourse.”
Earlier this year, Facebook asked the Oversight Board to review the suspension of Trump’s accounts, and the board invited public comment on the issue. The Knight Institute’s submission argued that Facebook should “adopt a heavy presumption in favor of leaving political speech up, in keeping with the principle that ‘debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.’” It also called for an independent investigation into the ways in which Facebook’s design decisions may have contributed to the events of January 6. The submission explained, “Trump’s statements on and off social media in the days leading up to January 6 were certainly inflammatory and dangerous, but part of what made them so dangerous is that, for months before that day, many Americans had been exposed to staggering amounts of sensational misinformation about the election on Facebook’s platform, shunted into echo chambers by Facebook’s algorithms, and insulated from counter-speech by Facebook’s architecture.”
Prior to today’s announcement, Facebook presumed world leaders’ posts newsworthy and did not subject them to its Community Standards, which set content-moderation guidelines that prohibit harassment, discrimination, or other potentially harmful speech.
“As we said in our submission, content moderation decisions are momentous, but they are as momentous as they are because of design and engineering choices that determine which speech proliferates on Facebook’s platform, how quickly it spreads, who sees it, and in what context they see it,” said Katy Glenn Bass, research director at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “Any institution that has reason to believe it played a role in the events leading up to January 6 has an obligation to thoroughly and credibly investigate. And Facebook’s empty gesture towards independent research here is disingenuous, coming from a company notorious for thwarting the efforts of researchers and journalists attempting to study their platform.”
Read the Knight Institute’s Oversight Board submission here.
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