Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has six months to answer these five questions
- The Facebook Oversight Board has thrown the ball in Facebook's court to come up with a fresh set of guidelines that will determine how influential users on the platform are treated.
- While the 'Supreme Court of Facebook' upheld Facebook's decision to ban Trump, it deemed the 'indefinite' ban to be arbitrary.
- Now, Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are on the clock and they have six months to answer some tough questions and navigate the potential political land mine that lies ahead.
While the ‘Supreme Court of Facebook’ agreed that suspending Trump’s account was the right move, it also ordered a further review of Facebook’s policies.
The primary criticism put forth by the board was that the social media company is trying to skirt the responsibility that comes with moderating content on the platform — an allegation that has also been made by others in the past.
Not everyone is happy with the board’s decision. Many have criticised the fact that Facebook is reportedly paying its Oversight Board six-figure salaries just to tell the company to come up with its own rules.
“A lot depends on how Facebook reacts to this ruling as it's not binding. We need to get to the bottom of how all this works instead of allowing companies to pretend to go through the motions of doing something,” Mishi Choudhary, technology lawyer and legal director at the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), told Business Insider.
Even though many of the questions that Facebook has to answer may not necessarily have universal answers, it’s now a countdown of six months to figure it out.
These are five main questions that Facebook needs to address.
Who constitutes an ‘influential user’?
As the President of the United States, Donald Trump had a high level of influence. According to the Facebook Oversight Board, 'it is not always useful' to draw a firm distinction between political leaders and influential users. This means that users, who may not necessarily be political leaders but still have a large fan following, can contribute to risk from hate speech.
“This is critical because, in an increasingly regulated digital world, it is most important for social media platforms to avoid arbitrariness and ensure that penalties are proportionate to the offensiveness of the violating content,” Saket Shukla, a co-founding partner at Phoenix Legal told Business Insider India.
The committee also highlighted that while the same rules should apply to all users, context matters when assessing the probability and imminence of harm.
How will Facebook decide when to ban an ‘influential’ user?
Not only does Facebook need to define what constitutes an ‘influential’ user, it also needs to figure out when it is appropriate to ban such a user. “The decision of the Board in the matter of Donald Trump requires Facebook to develop a clear, necessary and proportionate policy which will balance public safety and freedom of expression,” said Shukla.
According to the Facebook Oversight Board, an indefinite suspension is “indeterminate” and “standardless”. So far, the social media platform’s normal penalties include removing objectionable content, imposing a time-bound suspension, or permanently disabling an account.
In Trump’s case, Facebook did not say the ban is permanent — it only banned the former President for an ‘undefined’ amount of time, which creates uncertainty. “Facebook should publicly explain the rules that it uses when it imposes account-level sanctions against influential users,” said the board’s decision statement.
What is the maximum amount of time an ‘influential’ user’s account can be banned?
Once Facebook has regulations in place to identify an influencer user and the circumstances that can lead to getting banned from the platform, the question still remains around how long the ban should be.
“They need to be very clear in their communication in terms of what violation occurred and based on that, they need to specify whether it’s a one time ban, it’s a ban for x-number of months, or it’s a permanent ban,” Sanjay Mehta, the co-founder and joint CEO of digital marketing agency Mirium India, told Business Insider.
Zuckerberg's brain child will need to figure out how to walk the line between public safety and freedom of expression.
How will Facebook protect its staff from political pressure?
In September last year, the social media giant was accused of going easy on supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who allegedly violated Facebook’s hate speech rules. Meanwhile, the BJP was accusing the company of having a bias against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A month later, Facebook’s policy chief in India, Ankhi Das, resigned. "I have decided to step down from facebook after long service to its mission of connecting people and building communities to pursue my personal interest in public service,” she said in her farewell statement.
“Rapidly escalate content containing political speech from highly influential users to specialised staff who are familiar with the linguistic and political context. These staff should be insulated from political and economic interference, as well as undue influence,” said the Facebook Oversight Board in its ruling.
What will this mean for Facebook in India?
It is inevitable that parallels will be drawn from Facebook’s action with respect to the Board’s decision regarding Trump and other similar cases around the globe as they come up in the future. And while Facebook may be a global company that has one set of regulations, it also needs to adhere to each country’s law of the land.
“Facebook will be free to define the contours of its own policy basis the recommendations of the Board. However, any such policy developed by Facebook will have to remain subject to the local laws,” Anupam Shukla, counsel at Pioneer Legal, told Business Insider.
(IT RULES ANNOUNCEMENT PHOTO)
In India, for example, they recently enacted the IT Intermediary Rules that require social media intermediaries — like Facebook — to have detailed policies that address any content that is defamatory, obscene, in violation of a local law or incites violence.
“FB would have to ensure compliance with applicable law of each jurisdiction, to the extent the standards do not cover such compliance,” said Phoenix Legal’s Shukla.
This is already seen in the way that platforms operate in the US versus how they operate in Europe with respect to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). And, in countries where Facebook can’t adhere to the law of the land, it always has the option to exit. Something we’ve already seen happening in nations like China and North Korea.
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