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Facebook board right on Trump suspension, but now the hard part

This appeared in the San Jose (Calif.)Mercury News.

Facebook's Oversight Board made the right call Wednesday upholding the social media giant's suspension of Donald Trump's account.

The former president's potential to incite violence and his irresponsible spewing of misinformation justified his removal.

That said, the decision highlights how much work Facebook still has to do to fulfill its role as a responsible conduit of news and social discourse.

The oversight board consists of 20 members with a broad range of expertise, including attorneys, civic leaders and journalists. Its findings included a blistering criticism of the indefinite nature of Facebook's January ban, calling it a "vague, standardless penalty." It gave Facebook six months to come up with a policy that would either justify permanently suspending Trump's account, limiting the penalty to a specific period of time or restoring the account.

That Facebook didn't come up with such a policy years ago is appalling. The social media platform was founded in 2004 and has been dealing with Trump's tactics for the better part of the last decade. But it still hasn't developed a credible, working policy for dealing with those who potentially incite violence and constantly spread disinformation. Nor is it transparent about how it decides who should and shouldn't have an online voice.

Mark Zuckerberg doesn't have to be the ultimate "arbiter of truth." But he does have a responsibility to ensure the accuracy of information shared on Facebook and eliminate posts that contain dangerous misinformation or incite violence or hate.

Admittedly, the challenge is complex. And fixing Facebook wouldn't solve the entire problem. For example, on Tuesday, Trump unveiled a new web site, "From the desk of Donald J. Trump," that mirrors his former Twitter feeds and provides his followers fodder to share on social media sites.

Facebook has an estimated 2.8 billion users who post hundreds of millions of items every day. But this is a company with a market cap of $720 billion. It has the resources to take on the issues created by its own innovation.

If Zuckerberg and other social media companies such as Twitter and YouTube don't clean up their act, government intervention is inevitable. Congress has a long history of not fully understanding how the tech industry works. Regulation carries the risk of making the problem even worse.

Facebook's needs to aggressively stop publishing false information on issues ranging from climate change to the safety of vaccines.

The social media company's efforts to debunk misinformation by expanding the amount of scientific information available is welcome. But as a major conduit for news — two-thirds of Americans at least occasionally get their news from social media — Facebook must take additional steps to ensure accuracy and eliminate dangerous misinformation.
Just because something is hard and a potential drain on profits doesn't negate the company's obligation to the public.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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