To the Facebook Oversight Board,
We represent many of the world’s leading academics, scholars, experts on social media and extremism, civil and human rights activists and journalists. We are deeply concerned that your body is preparing to overturn the ban of Donald Trump from Facebook’s platforms.
We have a simple message: Overturning the Trump ban is an invitation to violence, hate and disinformation that will cost lives and undermine democracy. Don’t strike the match.
We bring two arguments forward:
- A Clear and Present Danger
Our members have been calling for the removal of Donald Trump from your platform for months. The moment President Trump declared “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Facebook became an accessory to murder.
President Trump and his allies violated Facebook’s terms of service over and over and over again: Attacking peaceful protest; fomenting violence in American cities; demonizing black and brown people; undermining the results of America’s election and finally inciting the attack on the nation’s capital. Until banning Trump on January 8th, Facebook failed completely to enforce its own rules relative to Trump and his allies.
Donald Trump poses a clear and present danger to democracy and human life. He is unrepentant. He continues to deny the outcome of the election. He has used Facebook to profit from his lies about the election. When social media amplifies his hateful rhetoric and disinformation, it is guilty of collaboration.
Some may say this is an issue of free speech. They are wrong. Donald Trump can do interviews. He can go on Fox News. He can write op-eds or send emails. He has the ability to speak freely to a massive global audience. No one has the inherent ‘right’ to use a social media platform to spread disinformation and incite hate over and over again or have one’s message amplified by algorithms. Any platform that does so is complicit in these acts.
We are concerned this case may be reviewed too narrowly, as a legal matter, ignoring Donald Trump’s history of using the platform to threaten and undermine democracy. The right to free speech does not extend to harming others. There are clear limits and Trump surpassed them years ago.
Some have called you Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” but don’t believe the hype. You’re not a legal body. This is not a legal process. A “free speech” ruling encouraging Facebook to let him back on the platform will send a message to every authoritarian, white nationalist and anti-vaxxer out there: that there are no consequences. Come on back in, the water is great.
Don’t strike the match.
2. This is not a legitimate or even remotely adequate process to address the ongoing harms on Facebook platforms.
As much as we urge you to uphold the ban on Donald Trump, the reality is that if Facebook was doing its job, this is a case that wouldn’t require “oversight.” What else does someone need to do to be banned on Facebook?
Facebook has outsourced its most important job — ensuring that no one is harmed by its product. Facebook’s leadership is using you — the Oversight Board — to evade responsibility, buy political cover and make the hard decisions for them, but the actual situation is worse than that. Facebook is using your board to create the illusion of outsourcing its most important job, while actually doing nothing at all. Facebook has demonstrated no interest in eliminating the flaws in its culture, business model, and algorithms. It just wants us to think it has.
It is using you as a fig-leaf to cover its lack of open, transparent, coherent moderation policies, its continued failure to act against inciters of hate and violence and the tsunami of hate speech, disinformation, and conspiracy theories that continue to flood its platform.
More than ever, this demonstrates why we need independent, democratically accountable oversight. Facebook cannot be trusted to do this and they — nor a board appointed by them — should be allowed to make decisions like these. 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.
We call for transparent, predictable, published standards from Facebook that it enforces consistently, and real, democratically accountable, independent oversight. This is a show trial, obscuring the systemic issues plaguing Facebook. And you are collaborators.
Repealing the Trump ban would be calamitous. We appeal to you to uphold the Trump ban, then step aside so a real and independent oversight board can be established to stop the torrent of hate and misinformation on Facebook’s platforms.