BOSTON (CBS) – “Go home. We love you. You’re very special,” President Trump told his followers in a video message as they sacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6. And that presidential valentine to the rioters was among the justifications cited for Facebook’s post-riot Trump ban by the oversight board appointed by the company to rule on this and other disputed actions against site users.
But the group of free speech and human rights experts also found Facebook guilty of vagueness and inconsistency in both making and enforcing the rules that got Trump blocked. “[They] punted it right back to Facebook and said you’ve got to make some decisions here,” says Northeastern University journalism professor and free-speech advocate Dan Kennedy, who noted the empire that Mark Zuckerberg built from the safety of Internet liability exemptions has thrived by using algorithms to peddle lies that incite violence like the attempted insurrection.READ MORE: 'Unfortunate that it came to this,' Brookline school teachers go on strike
“Try publishing some of this stuff in a newspaper. You’re gonna end up being sued, and you’re probably gonna lose the lawsuit,” Kennedy says. “But Facebook is able to hide behind some of these legal protections, and it may no longer be appropriate for them to be able to do that.”
Zuckerberg has been given six months to clean up his act. But given his failure to even respond to some key questions about company practices from his own oversight board, is there any reason to think he even cares about redemption?READ MORE: Bobcat breaks into Vermont home, attacks elderly man inside
“They have an awful lot to answer for here, and I really don’t think they have any idea how to do it,” says Kennedy, prompting us to wonder: What has this company become?
Says Kennedy: “They’ve become one of the greatest threats to democracy in the U.S. and around the world.”
There has been growing clamor from both parties in Washington to curb Facebook’s power, perhaps by repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that gives online platforms immunity from litigation stemming from third-party postings on their sites. But Kennedy points out that the web is a big place, and Facebook is hardly the only venue for dangerous lies and provocations.MORE NEWS: New England Living: Broomstones curling club in Wayland
You can deplatform a bad actor like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, but his website still draws huge numbers of visitors. And while a pending lawsuit against Fox News by one of the voting-machine companies allegedly slandered by the outlet might give them pause, if they decide any potential damages are the cost of doing business, then long-term abatement of our disinformation crisis seems unlikely.