Because Facebook (including Instagram and WhatsApp) is effectively a monopoly, the decision regarding Trump by its Oversight Board should matter to everyone.
Censoring content should only be done when a clearly articulated and publicly known set of rules is breached; where the content is clearly dangerous or criminal.
Banning a user, especially for an extended period or forever, should require an even higher burden of proof that the user will continue posting clearly dangerous or criminal content.
Posting falsehoods or inflammatory content which is not clearly or imminently dangerous is not nearly a high enough bar.
The US Supreme Court and many thought leaders (such as Cass Sunstein, Emanual Kant) recognize that censorship of falsehoods leads to censorship of truthful speech which may be in opposition to the government or the current political consensus. It is also demonstrably clear that false and inflammatory content is commonly posted by vast numbers of Facebook users including politicians, journalists, TV pundits and Hollywood celebrities.
Facebook needs to publish both its content rules and the specific actions that can be taken for various types of infractions of those rules. The rules should follow these guidelines:
1. Transparency – Content rules and related enforcement actions should be published and easily accessible by all users.
2. Equal Standards for All – Content rules should be fairly applied to all users (not just some). If users find examples of similar content, the platform should treat this content per the same rules.
3. Commensurate Enforcement Actions – Actions should be reasonable and commensurate with the violations.
4. Due Process for Disputes – Speedy and fair due process requires written explanation to users about the violations, enforcement actions, and a simple method to dispute the platform’s ruling.
5. Independent Appeals – Platform must provide an independent appeals mechanism, to resolve disputes, which is outside the management of the platform company.
Former President Trump repeatedly published inflammatory content that many people believe was false. His content has been blocked and he has already been banned for several months.
Whether the Board reinstates him or not, its decision needs to be clearly explained and linked to content rules and standards that are equally applied to all other users as well.
If his speech is not explicitly and directly linked to later violence or danger, then it would not violate the guidelines listed above.
If inflammatory false content alone should cause a user to be banned, then much of today’s political speech would therefore need to be blocked and politicians banned since their speech is regularly inflammatory and labels opponents as evil people who deserve any harm they receive. There are numerous examples of such speech by members of both political parties that could be indirectly linked to future violent actions such as street riots, assassination threats and arson.
By selectively punishing persons on only one side of the political aisle, with public pressure from the political party in control of government today, the Board creates the impression that it is unfair and politically biased toward censorship of speech from the opposition political party.
Since the Facebook platform is a monopoly, a permanent ban effectively eliminates that person from the public town square of discussion and free speech.
Liberals who agree with banning Trump because they dislike his speech and political ideas should remember the Berkeley Free Speech movement of the 1960s when liberals fought for free speech and their rights to demonstrate in public. While censorship targets conservative persons today, it may target liberal persons in the future as the US government has in the past.