Two years: this is the length of time during which Donald Trump’s Facebook account will remain suspended, the social network said in a message which also details new measures regarding the moderation of the accounts of political leaders.
“Facebook’s decision is an insult” to the “75 million people who voted for us in 2020”, the former US president immediately responded in a statement, adding that the social media giant “Should not be allowed to get away with this censorship and muzzling”.
Unlike other users of the social network, heads of state and government, as well as a large number of elected officials and political leaders, have so far benefited from a “topical” exemption: it provides that their posts can stay online in the name of the public interest, even when they post messages that violate the rules of use. Since its creation, Facebook considers, for example, that a message published by a head of state constitutes information of a political nature, to which citizens must be able to have access, even when this post is false or violent. The removal of messages posted by elected officials has so far been extremely rare.
Mr. Trump’s presidency has shown the limits of this policy, with the former President of the United States having repeatedly used his account to disseminate conspiracy theories, personal attacks on journalists or political opponents, and even thinly veiled threats against other foreign leaders.
Trump’s suspension as a tipping point
Mr. Trump’s Facebook account was finally suspended in January, after the invasion of the Capitol by supporters of the outgoing president, whom the latter had incited to march on the seat of the United States House of Representatives and Senate. In previous days, he had also used it to claim, in defiance of all evidence, that massive fraud had taken place in the November 2020 election and that he was the real elected president.
Seized of the case of this suspension, the supervisory board – oversight board, a sort of “supreme court” of the company recently entrusted with arbitrating challenges to Facebook’s moderation decisions – had considered that it was as such was legitimate. But the council had strongly criticized the fact that it is unlimited in time and that the criteria that led to this suspension remain unclear. “The same rules should apply to all users”, had declared the independent members of this body recently set up. The social network had promised to take into account their recommendations, in particular to set a clear limit on the suspension of Mr. Trump’s account.
“We know that this decision will be criticized by many people on both sides of the political spectrum, but our job is to make a decision that is as balanced, fair and transparent as possible”Facebook public affairs manager Nick Clegg wrote in the June 4 statement.
The way in which the social network had managed Mr. Trump’s account had also drawn strong criticism internally. In recent months, they have multiplied on how Facebook moderates the accounts of political leaders in other countries, especially after the Israeli offensive on Gaza, but also in India. As this country faces a major health crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, Facebook employees, including employees of Indian origin, are annoyed at what they perceive as a form of appeasement towards the government by Narendra Modi, reports the New York Times.
Facebook confirms more generally, as announced by the specialized site The Verge, that he intends to limit the privileges of moderation enjoyed by elected officials and heads of government. The social network could also be more transparent on the warnings given in the event of violation of its rules, which can lead to the exclusion of recidivist accounts.