The supervisory board of the social media giant will say this Wednesday if it restores the account of the former president of the United States, banned for “inciting violence” after the assault on the US Congress.
Four months after the suspension of his account, will Donald Trump return to Facebook? The verdict of the supervisory board of the social media giant, scheduled for this Wednesday, May 5, is expected as a major moment in the history of platforms and their political role. “The council’s reasoning may well help shape the rules of Facebook and other digital networks on how to treat political leaders and other figures in the future.”, underlines Elizabeth Renieris, director of the technology ethics division at Notre Dame University.
Facebook banned the former US president from its platform the day after the invasion of Congress in January by a crowd of his supporters, during the certification of the victory of Joe Biden in the election of November 2020. The Californian group had until then tolerated many messages from the Republican billionaire deemed problematic by large sections of society, and even internally. But on January 7, the network suspended “until further notice” the losing candidate for breaking his rules on incitement to violence, notably in a video in which he expressed his support for the rioters.
At the end of January, Facebook turned to its supervisory board to finally settle this case. The company finances this kind of “Supreme Court” independent, made up of 20 international members including journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders and former political leaders. At the start of the year, it issued its first verdicts (binding) and issued a series of recommendations (non-binding). For Donald Trump, faced with 9,000 responses to a call for public comment, she gave herself more time. If she cancels the suspension, Facebook will have seven days to restore access to her account.
Other platforms took similar action after the Capitol invasion. YouTube is waiting for “The risk of violence decreases” before allowing the former president to repost videos on his channel. Twitter – his former favorite network with nearly 89 million subscribers – has irrevocably suspended his account, even though Jack Dorsey, the founder of the network, had lamented a “Failure to promote healthy conversation”.
The former head of state has found refuge on the openly conservative and conspiratorial Gab network, where he is followed by 2 million people and continues to claim without evidence that the election was rigged. His advisor Jason Miller had promised that Donald Trump would launch his own platform with “Tens of millions of subscribers”. But for now this is only a blog added to his site on Tuesday, with the same posts as on Gab. However, posts on this blog may be shared by other users on social networks such as Twitter or Facebook.
Fans of the billionaire accuse Facebook of censorship. Those in favor of maintaining the status quo consider that the suspension of the billionaire’s account should have taken place much earlier. “He was using Facebook and other platforms to spread clearly bogus messages about electoral processes, very effectively undermining American democracy.”, recalls Samuel Woolley of the University of Texas School of Journalism. The researcher also mentions the frequent attacks against his detractors, “Considered by its subscribers as indications that they too could troll and harass these people”.
Donald Trump’s digital ostracization has been globally welcomed by elected Democrats and American civil society. But in Europe it has drawn criticism from associations and leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, worried about the power of technology companies over freedom of expression. “Whatever the verdict, we should be uncomfortable with the idea that decisions of this nature are made by unelected, unaccountable companies and by the inspectors they have chosen “, conclut Elizabeth Renieris.