If you tuned into last week’s edition of the africast, you’ll know that social media and its role in keeping the likes of US president Donald Trump to account, took up the majority of the episode. We particularly focused on what Twitter and Facebook have been doing of late, and who their respective CEOs have reacted to controversial comments from Trump.
The statements of Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, especially gave us pause for thought, as he explained that social media companies should not be “arbiters of truth.”
Hypertext’s view on the matter differs greatly to that of Zuckerberg, but the Facebook CEO did take to social media late last week Friday to unpack why the platform has not looked to correct or hide the president’s recent comments, which have been viewed by most, to incite violence.
“I’ve been struggling with how to respond to the President’s tweets and posts all day. Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric. This moment calls for unity and calmness, and we need empathy for the people and communities who are hurting. We need to come together as a country to pursue justice and break this cycle,” notes Zuckerberg.
“But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression,” he adds.
As such it appears as if Facebook’s CEO is taking action on some elements of the platform, and remaining quiet on others. In recent weeks we’ve seen Facebook make a concerted effort to police misleading posts and misinformation regarding COVID-19 and vaccinations, but when it comes to inciting violence, a more lenient approach is favoured.
“Although the post had a troubling historical reference, we decided to leave it up because the National Guard references meant we read it as a warning about state action, and we think people need to know if the government is planning to deploy force,” writes Zuckerberg.
“Our policy around incitement of violence allows discussion around state use of force, although I think today’s situation raises important questions about what potential limits of that discussion should be,” he continues.
While we must agree that controversial comments from a national leader do stoke debate around what should and should not be allowed on social media, the fence sitting on Facebook’s part does not inspire much confidence in terms of future incidents like this.
“There are heated debates about how we apply our policies during moments like this. I know people are frustrated when we take a long time to make these decisions,” says Zuckerberg.
“I disagree strongly with how the President spoke about this, but I believe people should be able to see this for themselves, because ultimately accountability for those in positions of power can only happen when their speech is scrutinized out in the open,” he concluded.
As we noted in our latest africast episode, there is a fundamental difference between what an ordinary citizen shares on social media and what a politician or national leader does. The latter should be held to a higher standard as what they say matters, and we hope Facebook realises this.