One of the stories I was following with interest over the summer break was the social media giants shutting down Donald Trump’s accounts.
They made the call after Trump incited his supporters to storm the US Capitol.
There’s been a development today, Facebook has referred the decision to what it calls its Oversight Board.
This is a recently established board, and this will be the first decision it evaluates.
And the thing to possibly read into this, is that Facebook is feeling the pressure over its decision to ban Trump.
As it should.
I’ve been impressed by the kind of people who’ve raised concerns over those bans.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has called the bans problematic because of freedom of speech concerns.
Our own privacy commissioner John Edwards was critical, calling the bans arbitrary, cynical and unprincipled.
The fundamental problem with these bans is whether we think men like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey get to decide whether voters have access to their national leaders.
It’s too easy to say Facebook and Twitter are not Trump’s only means of communication, the fact is Twitter was his preferred means… and for many people around the world… social media is the only way or the primary way they get their news.
So it is a massive censorship to shut those accounts.
And yes, he might have breached their rules by inciting violence. But this seems to be a rule that they apply when it suits them. Trump had done it in the past and survived. Philippines President Rodrigo Duetere is still on Facebook even though he incited gun violence (including murder) against drug dealers.
It felt an awful lot like these social media giants were prepared to tolerate Trump as long as he was in power, but when the power shifted, and they didn’t need him any more, and perhaps they needed the other side more, their allegiance shifted.
It shouldn’t be up those individual Silicon Valley billionaires to decide who gets to be heard and who doesn’t.
So the decision to refer to the oversight board today is welcome.
Because that is an independent regulator for Facebook.
This is going to be the board’s first test. We’ll have to wait up to three months to know what they have to say. But at least we can hazard the guess for now that Facebook is feeling the heat over this call.