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Facebook’s Oversight Board, a committee that acts as decision-makers for the social media platform’s content decisions, upheld the ruling of the ban on former President Donald Trump following the rhetoric that came after the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

So, what does this mean for the moderation of social media platforms? What implications does it have for brands and first amendment rights, or even the use of oversight boards? Here, Mintel’s Buddy Lo and Lisa Dubina explore the precedents set by Facebook’s recent ruling.

Mintel Senior Analyst, Culture & Identity, Lisa Dubina:

Facebook’s decision to indefinitely suspend former President Trump’s account on January 6th during the insurrection of the Capitol Building was met with both praise and scorn. Critics see Facebook’s move as an overreach of corporate power to stifle users’ lawful freedom of speech, while supporters felt the move was justified and, for some, long overdue.

Data from Mintel’s upcoming report, Conservative and Liberal Beliefs – US, June 2021, shows that over three-quarters of consumers believe that social media has made American politics more extreme, and a similar number agree that social media companies have a responsibility to stop the spread of false political information. This indicates that the majority of Americans expect social media companies to moderate user content to a certain degree for the safety and good of our democratic society.

The ruling of Facebook’s Oversight Board will be scrutinized by politicians, brands, and consumers alike. The decision to uphold the suspension, while at the same time requiring more definition and a specific period of time for penalty, may come to set a precedent for the role of brands in the realm of political speech.

Brands across categories should remember that the majority of Americans continue to worry about the state of the country. Three-quarters of Americans feel the country has never been more politically divided, and nearly three in five expect more future incidents like the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol Building. Furthermore, the majority of consumers also see brands as having the power to alleviate the country’s political division. According to Mintel research on American values, nearly two-thirds of people believe brands and companies can help unite the American people. It is likely that the role of brands and companies within the realm of political speech and political activism will continue to shift and evolve over the next several years as different brands decide where it feels appropriate for them to speak up and participate.

Mintel Senior Technology and Consumer Electronics Analyst, Buddy Lo:

The success and wide reach of social media networks have in some ways become a liability for the networks themselves. Social media plays a pivotal and influential role in consumer communication and information-sharing behaviors, and the power of social media in issues like politics cannot be denied. With great power comes great content moderation responsibility.

Facebook’s use of an independent oversight board is one way to address the murky nuance and blurred lines of content moderation and censorship. Facebook is not a government entity, so it doesn’t have to keep content up in the name of free speech, however excessive content moderation could undermine its value as a social media platform for its users. The oversight board allows Facebook to act in the moment and remove content it believes violates its standards, and the independent oversight board can address any decisions on content as a neutral ruling party after the fact. Unless government legislation codifies and mandates some form of content moderation for social media platforms, each platform will need to figure out the approach that will work for them that will typically generate users and revenue. While an oversight board may work for Facebook, it may not for other platforms.