Civil Rights Leaders Confront Facebook

By Chand Bellur

June 2, 2020 at 1:43 p.m. PT

  • Facebook refuses to moderate incendiary posts from President Donald J. Trump, claiming that private companies should not be the arbiters of truth.
  • Twitter’s modest attempt at moderating the President resulted in an executive order placing section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in jeopardy.
  • In a conference call with Facebook leadership, civil rights leaders attempted to state the case for moderating Trump’s inflammatory posts.

Facebook Under Fire

Social media is under attack these days. Some feel that it’s a source of misinformation and fake news. Others see political bias, which mutes conservative viewpoints while amplifying the politically correct. In either event, social media is a powerful force. In some respects, it has far greater reach than broadcast media.

Unlike most broadcast news, social media posts elude most fact-checking. Although notorious trolls will have their posts or even their accounts deleted, celebrity instigators have free rein. They earn massive revenues for social media platforms, reluctant to kill the golden geese.

Donald Trump, with over 80 million Twitter followers, is a special case. Where anyone else would face harsh moderation or a deleted account, his often incendiary tweets produce revenues for the struggling social media company. Twitter has only recently become profitable; however, losing Trump could reverse this trend.

Mark Zuckerberg has famously refused to moderate Trump. The two had a phone conversation before Trump’s notorious posts, reaching an agreement that Facebook would not moderate him. Civil rights leaders felt that Facebook leadership needed to hear their side, as Mark Zuckerberg only reached out to Trump.

Civil Rights Leaders Urge Facebook to Moderate Trump

Civil Rights Leaders from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Color of Change, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund reached out to Facebook leadership for a Zoom call. After virtually meeting with Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, the leaders concluded that Facebook executives knew very little about voter suppression and other civil rights issues.

Issuing a statement after the call, the group of civil rights leaders indicated that Facebook leadership couldn’t comprehend the issues:

“We are disappointed and stunned by Mark’s incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up. He did not demonstrate understanding of historic or modern-day voter suppression and he refuses to acknowledge how Facebook is facilitating Trump’s call for violence against protesters. Mark is setting a very dangerous precedent for other voices who would say similar harmful things on Facebook.”

The group, consisting of Vanita Gupta, Rashad Robinson, and Sherrilyn Ifill, took to cable news to propagate their message. They pointed out that Trump and Zuckerberg’s conversation about the posts excluded opposing views. The activists also expressed some concern as to the Facebook leaders’ ignorance of history.

Despite their efforts, Trump’s posts remain unmoderated on Facebook’s platform. The Facebook CEO holds firm to the notion that, at least in Trump’s case, they will not be the arbiter of truth. The social media company is well known to moderate and delete accounts of non-celebrity miscreants. The double standard, necessary for Facebook earnings, seems to undermine Mark Zuckerberg’s concept of the truth.

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