editor’s note: Jessica J. González is co-CEO of free pressa media advocacy organization, and co-founder of the coalition Change the Terms. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.
(CNN) — On Wednesday, Meta justified its decision to restore Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts by saying the risk to public safety “has sufficiently diminished.”
It’s a claim that will take its toll on Meta executives, and it ignores the growing body of evidence linking Trump’s expletives on social media to political violence in the real world.
Earlier this month, a draft of the January 6 House select committee report was leaked to the press. The 122 page document“Social Media & the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol,” concludes that the risk posed by former President Trump on social media “has not diminished.”
Meta agreed at some point. When he first suspended Trump on January 6, 2021, the company said that his posts about the storming of the Capitol “add to the risk of ongoing violence, rather than decrease it.” By upholding the decision, the Facebook Supervisory Board added later that Trump’s posts—especially those denying the election results—”created an environment in which a serious risk of violence was possible.”
The company’s decision to remove Trump and his allies from the platform appears to have had the desired effect. Following the former president’s departure from major social networking sites, a comprehensive study found that online discussions about electoral misinformation decreased by 73%.
The select committee’s draft report found that Trump and his supporters used Facebook, among other social media platforms, to closely follow “his claims about a stolen election and, subsequently, his calls to come to Washington to protest.” against the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”
The draft report also condemned Facebook for its “refusal to adequately police the spread of disinformation or violent content in Stop the Steal groups despite their known ties to militant groups.”
Since leaving office, Trump’s views have gotten even more unhinged. He has continued to spread electoral lies on his own Truth Social platform. He has also promoted other conspiracy theories. A recent investigation by media watchdog group Media Matters for America reveals that Trump amplified accounts who support the QAnon conspiracy 65 times during the week of the 2022 midterm elections, including 50 mentions on November 14 and 15, just before announcing his 2024 presidential bid.
This track record should serve as a dire warning to Meta executives who think they can rein in Trump’s erratic and dangerous behavior. Meta’s President of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, said Wednesday in a blog that users “should be able to hear what their politicians are saying – the good, the bad and the ugly – so they can make informed choices at the polls.”
It also said the company has put in place “new barriers” to prevent public figures who have been suspended in connection with civil unrest from continuing to violate its rules, including imposing tougher penalties for repeat offenses and full suspension for up to two years each time.
However, these measures are nothing more than a public relations distraction unless they are actually implemented, and Meta, unfortunately, has not acted in recent years against rule breakers, including those who repeatedly spread hate speech and some disinformation, according to a Free Press investigation published just before the 2022 midterm elections. And by virtue of its newsworthy content policyyou can make exceptions for the most powerful among us.
In fact, Clegg wrote Wednesday that, under its newsworthy policy, Meta can leave Trump posts on its site that violate its community guidelines, as long as the public interest in learning about the statement outweighs any potential harm. She can then restrict their distribution, leaving them visible only on Trump’s page.
For content that doesn’t violate its community guidelines, but “contributes to the kind of risk that materialized on January 6,” Meta can remove the “reshare” button or prevent it from being served as ads or recommended. But these efforts to disable users’ ability to amplify fake content — like “stop the steal” messages, for example — aren’t foolproof.
What CNN reported in 2021, pro-Trump groups simply altered their profiles or changed their group names, allowing them to continue to repurpose and spread Trump falsehoods about the 2020 election while blending in with permitted Facebook activity.
Basic fairness would dictate that Trump plays by the same rules as the rest of us. Patterns show us that violence does not flare up overnight; the embers of hate and lies that Trump has continued to fan on Truth Social may incite another insurrection if they reach Meta’s mass audience.
However, Meta still has a chance to learn from his many mistakes, though that window is closing quickly. She can start by ending special exemptions for Trump and other prominent politicians who fuel hate, incite violence, and spread undemocratic lies.
Free Press, through our work with the Change the Terms coalition, charted a better path for Meta and other social media giants. This includes adopting and enforcing model policies to reduce hate and misinformation online and prevent real violence in the real world.
No Meta user – no matter how powerful – should be allowed to use the company’s services to engage in or facilitate hateful activities. The platform must ensure that toxic hate and misinformation is not present in any language or in any country where the company does business.
Meta’s managers are fully responsible for any real-world damage that results from Wednesday’s reckless decision. They can no longer claim ignorance about the political violence that can ensue when they allow a dangerous figure like Trump access to an online megaphone.
Source: CNN Espanol