When Facebook indefinitely suspended ex-President Trump after the January 6 attack on the capitol, its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, got no thanks from either side. Why did he wait so long, considering how Trump and his campaign had used Facebook to perpetuate lies, many complained. And Trump supporters complained that the suspension was a violation of free speech, which of course, it wasn’t, considering Facebook is a private company. The history of Trump and Facebook is a sordid one,beginning with their collaboration during the 2016 campaign involving sharing the information of millions of Facebook users with trolling organizations working out of Russia. It later was learned that much of the plotting, organization, and communication between those groups that stormed the capital used Facebook.
Over the years Zuckerberg has done too little and has done it too late to stop the abuse of his platform. Facebook has had no clear rules of what is considered a violation and who should be suspended. In fact, last year when it was found that most of the abuses, the false information, the Russian trolls, and fake stories, were all working in favor of Trump, Facebook’s executive Joel Kaplan, convinced Zuckerberg not to enforce the few rules they did have, arguing that it would look as if they were singling out Republicans.
So rather than creating and enforcing a set of reasonable rules that would apply to all, Zuckerberg created a group of paid advisors as his Oversight Board or Supreme Court to independently decide what to do about Trump. He explained that this decision was too important for him to make and it needed to be done by this board alone. Most expected the board to allow Trump back on the platform. But the board surprised everyone with a decision to push it back onto Zuckerberg while upholding the ban for now.
They ruled that the indefinite ban Zuckerberg instituted needed to be addressed within six months by developing clear rules for suspensions and determining whether Trump should be banned permanently. There was some satisfaction in the fact that the board Zuckerberg created to avoid making a decision, pushed the decision back onto him.
Making the decision should not be all that complicated. Establish basic rules of behavior based on cordial engagement, ban misbehavior, and prohibit posting known falsehoods and applying the rules to all uniformly. That’s what Twitter did when it found that Trump violated their rules and continued to claimed the election was rigged. That’s what Reddit did when it banned him from their forums. For some reason simple decisions such as this eludes Zuckerberg.
But Zuckerberg has consistently refused to do this and continues to be the target of politicians on both sides that are going after Facebook for breaking antitrust rules. As one that has had a career in high tech and has admired many of the accomplishments of companies and entrepreneurs, Facebook is singularly an embarrassment because of how it’s violated all the basic norms of decency and openness. It’s an evil force has been unleashed and has caused much destruction and damage around the world. Adding Trump back into the mix would be even more explosive.