Donald Trump will not be returning to Facebook immediately. The former US president remains deprived of his account and his 35 million “friends” on the largest social network in the world. So decided the “supervisory board” of Facebook, a body set up last year by the American group to rule as a last resort on its most difficult moderation decisions.
The former president had seen his account suspended on January 7, in the wake of the violent riots on Capitol Hill in Washington. The boss of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, then explained that “the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great”.
An arbitrary sanction
The argument was deemed admissible. “President Trump’s actions on social media encouraged and legitimized violence and was a serious violation of Facebook rules,” Supervisory Board Director Thomas Hughes said in a statement. “Facebook’s decision to suspend the president on January 7 was the right one. “
On the other hand, to give an “indefinite” duration to this suspension was abusive. Nothing like this was provided for in the content policy of the social network, tackles the supervisory board, which invites Facebook to “reexamine this arbitrary sentence and apply one in accordance with its rules” in the next six months.
A considerable stir
With this interesting turnaround, the ball is back in Facebook’s court. Mark Zuckerberg’s group will have to choose: define a time-limited suspension or permanently suspend Donald Trump’s account. This new decision will have to take into account the severity of the alleged facts, but also the potential future damages. What relaunch the debates which the social network had precisely wanted to escape by asking the opinion of the supervisory board.
The exclusion of the former president in January had indeed caused a considerable stir around the world. Some denounced a decision that was too late or the very unequal application of the platform’s rules. Others – including German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Russian opponent Alexeï Navalny – had expressed their unease at the exorbitant power of social networks, capable of suddenly depriving the world’s most powerful leader of his favorite platform.
Regulators in ambush
The verdict of the supervisory board is unlikely to calm the spirits. While awaiting a new decision from Facebook, Donald Trump remains cut off from the platform’s massive audience, which will only strengthen Republicans’ criticism of the liberal biases of large social networks – and the pressure to regulate them further.
All the more so since several others, like Snapchat or especially Twitter, where the billionaire had 88 million subscribers, have banned Trump permanently. And without any possibility of appeal, since the supervisory board of Facebook remains to this day an isolated initiative.
The pitfall of algorithms
And even though Facebook’s “Supreme Court” would do the trick, the system has many critics, who criticize the lack of real independence of this committee. Its members have been appointed by Facebook, its funding comes from Facebook and the limits of its prerogatives are set by Facebook. It is impossible for him, for example, to look into the algorithms of the social network, which accelerate or on the contrary restrict the distribution of certain content.
In its decision, the supervisory board also points out that the social network refused to answer several of its questions. And among the non-binding recommendations that accompany it, Facebook is asked to provide a report on its own role in the exacerbation of tensions ahead of the riots of January 6.
“Is she going to do it?” The company has 30 days to respond. The dialogue that opens will be interesting, ”explains Les Echos Julie Owono, one of the twenty members of the Supervisory Board. There is no doubt that the legislators, who work on the regulation of social networks on both shores of the Atlantic, will also be very attentive to it.