Now that Facebook’s oversight committee has announced the decision to uphold former US President Donald Trump’s ban on social media, the question remains: what about Jair Bolsonaro?
Can the Brazilian leader maintain his routine of breaking platform rules undisturbed? What about other populists who use Facebook and other social networks to lie and incite violence, like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Narendra Modi in India?
Facebook bought more time to answer this question. The company must immediately comply with the committee’s decision and uphold the ban imposed on Trump on Jan. 7, but will have up to six months to take a position on the watchdog’s recommendations.
So, on the one hand, the committee says the veto is justified because the false content posted by the Republican on allegations of electoral fraud contributed to the tensions that led to the invasion of Capitol Hill. On the other hand, he says that the company must reconsider “the arbitrary sanction imposed [a Trump]”.” The penalty should be proportionate to the seriousness of the violation and the prospect of future harm. It must also comply with the rules applicable to serious violations, which must be clear, necessary and proportionate. “
Facebook is not obligated to follow the recommendations of the committee, only the decision relating to the specific case. But he will hardly be able to continue to push the problem of what to do with the populist leaders with millions of followers who use their megaphone to incite violence.
Now, since Wednesday’s announcement (5) makes it clear that Mark Zuckerberg will not be able to use the committee to make this difficult decision for him, which would clean up the company’s bar, Facebook will have to develop clear rules for public figures. . . “By applying a vague sanction, without clear parameters, then by referring the case to the oversight committee, Facebook is trying to shirk its responsibilities. The committee rejects the request and insists that Facebook apply and justify defined sanctions, ”said one of the agency’s members.
Facebook applies its rules quite arbitrarily. An investigation by Agência Lupa points out that Bolsonaro broke social media rules for Covid posts at least 29 times until March of this year. Yet he was not punished. Of the 29 violations, 22 occurred in their weekly lifetime. But, unlike what it has done in other countries, the platform has not removed or tagged any of this content.
In early April, former company employee Sophie Zhang said Facebook stopped acting in front of leaders in countries like Honduras who were using the platform illegitimately, through accounts of inauthentic behavior, for example, for authoritarian purposes. According to Zhang, the company decided not to act, even after being warned, because it was not worth it.
The political cost of crafting consistent parameters and sanctioning politicians and influencers who break standards is high, even though they can undermine democracy.
Facebook and other platforms are being criticized from all sides of the political spectrum. On the far right, they are accused of censoring conservative voices. On the left, to be omitted when the populists incite violence. The main thing is, as the commission argues, to consolidate clear rules that are applied consistently to users who fall into the category of political figures or influencers.
Previously, political leaders were protected from penalties for producing “noteworthy” content. The committee warned, however, that this concept cannot be considered when “urgent action is needed to avoid significant damage”. When the user incites violence and discrimination, for example, a suspension should be imposed for a fixed period, recommends the decision.
The committee is adamant: “If a head of state or senior official repeatedly posts content that poses a risk, by international human rights standards, Facebook should suspend the account for a period sufficient to protect itself. against imminent damage. The suspension periods must be long enough to avoid any irregular behavior and may, where appropriate, include the deletion of pages or accounts ”.
The decision also recommends that the social network examine how it may have contributed to the false account of fraud in the 2020 US election and how the platform may have exacerbated “tensions that culminated in the violence of January 6” when the Capitol was invaded. by Trump. supporters.
The standards for how public figures can use their megaphones on Facebook will also be decisive for the survival of Brazilian democracy. What will Facebook do when Bolsonaro uses lives and messages to say that the Brazilian election will be rigged and that, if the printed vote is not passed, the outlook could be worse than the invasion of the US Congress?
What if the president and Bolsonarist influencers with millions of followers, including lawmakers, used the platform to urge supporters to ensure the “verifiable vote” and confront poll officials on election day? Can he? The platform is expected to develop rules and they will be valid for everyone.