The implications of Facebook banning Trump
Facebook’s Oversight Board has upheld its decision to bar former President Donald Trump from using its platform on Wednesday, May 9, 2021. This decision was to reaffirm the ban Facebook placed on Trump after his allegedly incendiary posts about the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.
This is completely unacceptable. A private company should not have the power to silence anyone from having a voice. A decision to silence someone is not to be made in a meeting room in a corporate office. If corporations can silence people on demand, especially prominent figures who have a large following, then the future of the world is in the hands of social media companies. Since governments cannot directly influence private companies, social media companies would have unrestrained power on the world without checks and balances.
A counter argument can be made with regards to the terms and conditions of the social media companies. It can be said that what Trump posted, especially around Jan. 6, has caused violence, which violates the terms and conditions of Facebook. While that is completely valid, a similar argument can be made about the Black Lives Matter protests that turned into riots and caused looting of stores, which under Facebook’s terms and conditions should also have resulted in the removal of the accounts that incited the protests and riots. However, I have not heard of significant social media account removals tied to the Black Lives Matter riots, which is a clear indication of Facebook’s bias and selective enforcement of its terms and conditions. It should be made clear that I support Black Lives Matter, but not the riots that come as part of the movement.
Silencing Trump, or anyone on any side of the political spectrum, is inherently a bad idea for the country. This is evident in the rise of supposedly “free speech” social media platforms such as Parler and Gab as a result of crackdowns by Twitter and Facebook on right-leaning content and platforms. Parler and Gab are social networks that are currently dominated by right-wing leaders, and several conservative leaders have accounts there, such as Ted Cruz and Eric Trump. These platforms would not have risen to their popularity today if not for Twitter and Facebook’s attempts to direct the narrative away from conservative voices. This can all be summarized in a Chinese Chengyu “物极必反/物極必反,” which means when things develop to an extreme, it will suddenly turn to the other direction. This is exactly what is happening with Twitter and Facebook’s efforts to silence the Right, as when the Right feel they are being silenced, they will move somewhere else where they can flourish.
With the rise of right-wing media and social networks, the internet is divided into two sections, one occupied by mainstream social networks which are perceived as leftist by conservatives, and one occupied by the conservatives where conservatives can speak freely among themselves. This means that everyone stays in their own bubble and does not listen to what the other side has to say, and this phenomenon is increasingly spilling from the online world to the physical world, as seen in the role that Parler played in organizing the Jan. 6 insurrection; protesters used Parler as one of their platforms to organize the insurrection.
Take Erie, Pennsylvania, one of the most politically divided towns in the United States. Tons of money was poured into the town before the 2020 election, and this has led everyone to retreat into their political corners even more than before. This means that people are scared to state their beliefs publicly out of fear of violence and have lost customers. I also have several friends from other universities that are Trump supporters, and they fear publicly stating their beliefs. Even wearing red hats is risky for sports fans who do not want to be confused with Trump supporters.
I genuinely fear the United States going into a civil war within the next 30 years as a spillover of the current virtual divide into the real world continues. When Democrats cannot be friends with Republicans, we have a serious problem at hand.
What mainstream social media can do is not control the narrative and instead let the narrative happen by itself. This way, opposing sides can hear each other in earnest without interruptions, and this is the only way the country can walk out of this extreme divide. And that starts by unbanning Trump, a prominent conservative, and letting him have a platform to preach his ideas. This may be dangerous, as seen by the Capitol insurrection, but the alternative is likely more dangerous because the extreme divide that is happening right now is not going to go away by itself. We are faced with two bad options, so we have to choose the lesser evil.