“Facebook created this engine of amplification. They know exactly how widely these posts can spread and why they should stand in the way,” said Ryan Calo, a University of Washington law professor. “When people violate their rules, they should all be held to the same standards.”
In other words, when rules are enforced inconsistently, why should anyone respect them?
It’s not as though Facebook didn’t have ample evidence that its site could and would be used to incite real-world violence. Left to its own devices, the company allowed bigoted and provocative posts to remain, such as Mr. Trump’s threat to protesters after George Floyd’s death that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” an external audit found.
Even two years into Mr. Trump’s term, Facebook admitted it hadn’t done enough to prevent its site from being used “to foment division and incite offline violence.” But nothing much changed.
So, Mr. Trump most likely felt emboldened after spending years flouting Facebook’s rules about election misinformation, the pandemic and the glorification of violence with only feeble blowback from the company. In just his final year in office, roughly a quarter of his 6,081 posts contained misinformation, lies or harmful rhetoric, according to the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America. Abroad, Facebook has been used by politicians to promote the harming of Filipino citizens, the destruction of mosques and a genocide of the largely Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar.
Incitement is, as they say in Silicon Valley, a feature, not a bug.
Facebook and other social media sites’ caution about taking down posts or accounts in democratic elections may be understandable, but prominent people are more likely to be believed, which is why the company’s standards should be higher for them, not the other way around. There is a growing body of evidence that far from being dispassionate, Facebook’s software algorithms are designed to amplify and more broadly spread untrustworthy or extreme content, essential to keeping users on the site longer, where they can see more lucrative advertisements.