Politics Opinion: Facebook's decision on readmitting Trump is going to enrage people. But there's more to the story
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Four months ago, Facebook announced former President Donald Trumpindefinitely from its platform. On Wednesday morning, Facebook's oversight board -- a group of legal experts and human rights leaders -- its decision about whether Trump will be permanently banned.
Facebook's decision will be a litmus test for social media platforms' capacity to draw the line between the protection of free speech and public safety. But no matter what the outcome, one thing is certain: it will enrage many Americans, and even more will feel helpless about the prospect of political reconciliation on social media. So before Trump takes the spotlight in ongoing discussions about social media and politics once again, is there anything that we -- the citizens of social media -- can do to stem the tide of polarization on our platforms?
EXPLAINER: Will Donald Trump return to Facebook?
Former President Donald Trump will find out whether he gets to return to Facebook on Wednesday, when the social network’s quasi-independent Oversight Board plans to announce its ruling in the high-profile case. The decision likely to stir up strong feelings no matter which way it goes. If the board rules in Trump's favor, Facebook has 30 days to reinstate his account. If it upholds Facebook’s decision, Trump will remain “indefinitely suspended.” That means he’ll remain banned from the platform for as long as Facebook sees fit. Here’s how the process works and what might happen after Wednesday’s announcement.
That question may seem wrongheaded. By, it was social media companies that inside ideological echo chambers, misinformation campaigns that divided us even further and that radicalize us for profit. But what if I told you that the evidence for each of these claims is surprisingly thin?
Four years ago, I founded theat Duke University. We use the tools of to research the of political polarization and build to help social media users implement insights from our research.
Social media companies are by no means blameless for our current situation. But the latest research indicates that most peopleinside political echo chambers, misinformation surprisingly little impact on our views and algorithms probably only radicalize of people.
Trump's Facebook ban upheld by Oversight Board
The board said that Facebook was "justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts," but that the company should reassess its decision to ban him "indefinitely."The decision to uphold the ban is a blow to Trump's hopes to post again to Facebook or Instagram anytime soon, but it opens the door to him eventually returning to the platforms. Facebook must complete a review of the length of the suspension within six months, the board said.
These findings may seem surprising, but they are actually quite consistent with decades of research about public opinion. Most peoplevery much about politics, and those that do usually have very strong views that are difficult to change. The small group of people who follow politics closely enough to erect strong echo chambers around themselves also the vast majority of fake news.
Though we might like to think that Facebook, Twitter or other platforms could simply tweak some code to save us from our current predicament, these studies hint at a much more unsettling truth: the root cause of political polarization on our platforms is us. And it's not going away until we find a way to solve it.
Americans are deeply divided, and many are not yet willing to cross the chasms that separate us -- especially on divisive issues such as race. But what about thewho want political compromise? What would a bottom-up movement to counter polarization look like for them?
Facebook oversight board upholds Trump ban for now
Facebook’s suspension of former President Trump after the January 6 insurrection was upheld by an independent oversight board on Wednesday, but the panel also said that Facebook can’t indefinitely keep Trump in limbo and must reach a “proportionate response.” The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram. Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7.” “However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension.
Though there is no single solution to defeat political polarization, my colleagues and I have identified three things everyone can do to form better habits -- and we have created new technologies to assist in this process.
First, we can learn to combat false polarization, or our tendency to exaggerate extremity on the other side and minimize radicalism on our own side -- making us think that political polarization is more pervasive than it really is.
False polarization existed long before social media, but social media users have set this process into hyperdrive. Afrom the Pew Research Center revealed that about 6% of all Twitter users generate 73% of posts about national politics -- and a majority of these individuals have extreme views. Meanwhile, the majority of Twitter -- more moderate users -- rarely post about politics, making it seem like they do not exist in the political sphere at all.
That's why it's so important to learn to see Twitter trolls for what they really are. And we have developed a tool to do just that. Ourbuilt after tracking the language and characteristics of trolls on Twitter, helps to identify social media users who not only have extreme views, but engage in the type of highly uncivil behavior that can make political compromise seem impossible.
Facebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one
Facebook's Oversight Board's long-awaited ruling on former President Trump's account ban pushed the decision back to the Silicon Valley giant, fueling calls for government regulation and oversight from both sides of the aisle. Democrats and advocates have criticized the process and the board's decision to leave open the ability for Trump to return, while Republicans have centered their criticism around accusations that Facebook is censoring conservatives through the ban. Trump, unsurprisingly, also slammed the decision - lumping together Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Second, we must all become more introspective about our own behavior on social media -- and whether it contributes to false polarization. Becoming a more reflective social media user does not simply mean tamping down our inner trolls. Instead, it requires asking ourselves more fundamental questions about how our behavior shapes the bigger picture. If we are part of the moderate majority of Americans who never posts about politics, for example, we must consider whether our lack of engagement helps fuel the fire.
Of course, becoming more reflective about our own behavior is extremely difficult -- especially with the seemingly infinite distractions of social media. This is why we built tools that help people seeabout their politics. Our technology will place you on a spectrum that ranges from "very liberal" to "very conservative" so that you can get a sense of how other people might perceive you -- and verify that your online persona reflects your
Third, we can learn to find moderate voices on the other side more effectively. The idea of a moderate on social media can sometimes seem like an oxymoron, but this is because the loudest voices drown out those in the middle. In addition to learning to avoid extremists -- and not feed the trolls -- we also need help learning how to see the middle.
Trump Fans See Tyrannical Plot in Facebook Ruling
In a move seemingly designed to aggrieve everyone, Donald Trump is neither permanently banned from Facebook nor immediately allowed back, the Facebook Oversight Board announced Wednesday. In other words, the former president got a deferral on access to his followers on the world’s largest social-media platform. Still, voices on the right decried the independent board’s non-decision as evidence that Facebook had become more powerful than the government or the United Nations. Facebook suspended Trump on Jan. 7, the day after he appeared to post support for fans who attacked the U.S. Capitol.
Once again, technology can help us get there. Our Polarization lab studies patterns in the content liked by a large group of Republicans and Democrats to build models that produce a "" where you can find public figures and organizations who appeal to both sides and their messages. These messages will not please everyone -- but they can help you begin to turn up the volume of people whose more moderate views are so urgently needed to pull our conversation back toward a more rational and pragmatic middle.
Keeping our eyes trained on the middle will be even more important during the maelstrom of hot takes, incivility and anger that will follow Facebook's decision about Trump. Each of our decisions about what to post, share or like in the coming days will determine whether we continue to fan the flames of partisanship or begin to have the difficult conversations about how to put ourselves back together again.
Though a bottom-up movement to counter polarization on social media will not solve all of our problems, our current predicament is not sustainable. Content moderation by the platforms has an important role to play -- but we've spent too much of our time focused on rooting out bad behavior on our platforms and far too little thinking about how to incentivize civility and compromise.
‘Infinitely harder’: Trumpland fears Facebook’s impact on 2024 .
The president’s suspension remains in place. And GOP operatives worry what that might mean for him and the party.The ruling by the Facebook oversight board meant that Trump would remain off the platform for the foreseeable future and, perhaps, well beyond should the company make the ban permanent. In practical terms, the main driver of Republican Party enthusiasm would be less omnipresent in voters’ lives—a reality that sparked fear for some GOP operatives. As for Trump, he would remain without one of the great money-raising spigots in all of politics as his political operation geared up for a possible 2024 run.