Saturday, 19 June 2021

Facebook confronts human rights dilemma on political speech

REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

NEW YORK – Facebook Inc oversight board’s extension of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s banishment from the social network failed to settle how it will balance political leaders’ freedom of speech and its responsibility to make sure hateful rhetoric does not incite violence.

The 20-person board, which includes legal scholars, activists and a former prime minister, upheld Trump’s suspension from Facebook for the time being but said the company needed to do far more to prepare for volatile political situations.

The company’s policies on these issues have huge importance not just in the United States but in countries including India, Brazil, Myanmar and the Philippines. Political leaders there have turned to the social network to stoke hate or spread misinformation, both with deadly consequences, according to critical reviews by the United Nations and other bodies.

“Facebook has become a virtually indispensable medium for political discourse,” the board said in its Wednesday ruling. “It has a responsibility both to allow political expression and to avoid serious risks to other human rights.”

The Oversight Board gave Facebook credit for evaluating Trump’s actions during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which prompted his ban from the service, against the Rabat Plan of Action, a globally accepted test for distinguishing incitement of hatred and violence from what should be protected as free speech.

The six-point Rabat plan considers the context and intent of the speech, the speaker, the content itself, its reach and the imminence of harm. Trump, president at the time, told protesters in a Facebook video that they were “very special,” even as some were still storming into the Capitol. Trump’s account had 35 million followers.

The board concluded that Trump “used the communicative authority of the presidency in support of attackers,” and his violation of Facebook’s policies against glorifying violence was “severe in terms of its human rights harms.” It did not exercise its authority to tell Facebook it must ban Trump permanently.

But the board chastised Facebook for not having a process for re-applying that or some other test to determine when Trump’s privileges should be restored. It gave Facebook six months to decide on Trump’s status and urged the company to develop a policy to handle crises in which its existing options would not prevent imminent harm.

Facebook said it is reviewing the feedback.

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