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Nick Clegg’s Facebook debacle

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Donald Trump has been stuck in “Facebook jail” since the Capitol Hill riots in January, says the New York Post. He can’t talk to his 35 million Facebook friends or 24 million Instagram followers. So it’s big news that the social media giant’s “hand-picked oversight board” this week told Mark Zuckerberg to come up with a better reason for keeping him there indefinitely, because “using the riot as a pretext to silence him” won’t wash. Facebook now has six months to put a time limit on the penalty or explain why Trump should be permanently barred. Back to you, Zuck.

The members of the year-old oversight board have “flunked their biggest challenge” with a fudge that has annoyed everyone, says Andrew Orlowski in The Daily Telegraph. Blame Nick Clegg. The Lib Dem leader turned Facebook vice-president dreamt up a board of 20 supposedly independent ex-hacks, lawyers and erstwhile state leaders to rule on decisions like this. Using AI and hiring thousands of £28,000-a-year content moderators has failed to stem hate speech on the platform or “take the heat off” Zuckerberg. Clegg’s plan was to create a “global institution” to set the rules – a “PR heat shield” – with the help of a $130m trust and six-figure salaries for its board. “I defer to you, Nick,” Zuckerberg reportedly said after the decision to ban Trump. But no pseudo-UN was ever going to pacify Facebook’s warring tribes: “Perhaps it’s time for the failed peace-keeper, Clegg, to stand down.”

It’s still bad news for the former president, say Jonathan Swan and Sara Fischer in Axios. For now he’s suspended indefinitely, and Team Trump thinks getting back on Facebook is “the linchpin to his fundraising and online political strategy”. The former president spent about $160m on Facebook ads in 2020; Joe Biden spent $117m. This week Trump launched From the Desk of Donald Trump, a platform for him to blast his unmediated thoughts into the world. “Picture Twitter,” says Gilad Edelman in Wired, “but Trump’s is the only account on it. (So far, at least.) You might call it… a blog.”

What all this underlines is that no one understands “Facebook jail”, says Kirsten Grind in The Wall Street Journal. A history teacher in Oklahoma served 30 days recently after jokingly telling a friend: “Man, you’re spewing crazy now!” Facebook says it’s working to be clearer, but its overworked moderators, who have to review two million pieces of content a day, are all at sea. Zuckerberg has admitted that the company makes the wrong call in more than 10% of cases, which works out at 200,000 incorrect decisions every day. “Facebook’s impenetrable system for adjudicating content has reinforced the company’s reputation for heavy-handed and inept policing.” You might rejoice when someone you hate gets cancelled – but it could happen to you.