“It is just too typical that the ‘content’ of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.” So stated the awesomely gonzo communication theorist Marshall McLuhan some 57 years in the past.
What McLuhan meant was that, in a discourse dominated by digital media, we fret over particular person utterances far an excessive amount of, whereas ignoring the communications techniques during which these utterances reside.
This week, McLuhan’s well-known commentary got here off mothballs and located supremely sensible software when the Facebook Oversight Board, the panel of specialists appointed by Facebook, Inc., decided to increase restrictions on Donald Trump’s use of Facebook and Instagram, giving Facebook six months to determine “a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules” of the platform.
At this level, who actually cares? The former president’s injury is finished, and even with him benched, Facebook is full of insidious disinformation, dissimulation and masquerade of each variety, hate speech, and defamation and harassment amounting to a variety of torts.
But Facebook’s board was charged with evaluating simply two posts to Instagram and Facebook, impartial of the dynamics of the social media to which they had been posted. It did these two shut readings, and credibly effectively. But that success, and the determination about Donald Trump, was neither right here nor there. In the finish, the results of the train was to distract from Facebook’s personal culpability in a lot broader injury to democracy. First off, the committee cited two “pieces of content,” what McLuhan would have known as “messages,” as key to its decision-making. The first was a video of Trump giving an handle to the digicam that started, “I know your pain.” It was posted to Facebook and Instagram and time-stamped 4:21 pm, EST, January 6, 2021, as the US Capitol was below violent assault by Trump supporters.
The second was a 42-word paragraph on Facebook below Trump’s identify, time-stamped slightly below two hours later. “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love in peace. Remember this day forever!”
The assertion by Facebook’s oversight group centered on the language, the timing, and the origin of the two posts. It didn’t point out the dynamics, the enterprise mannequin, or the instruments of social media, Instagram and Facebook, even as soon as.
According to the board’s assertion, “‘We love you. You’re very special’ in the first post and ‘great patriots’ and ‘remember this day forever’ in the second post violated Facebook’s rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence.”
As for timestamps, the assertion says, “At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions.”
About the American president as writer of the posts, the assertion says, “As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence. The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram.” The board went on: “It is not always useful to draw a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users, recognizing that other users with large audiences can also contribute to serious risks of harm.”
Though put in a matter-of-fact manner, this level was the one shock—even shock—in the oversight board’s assertion. To Facebook, the American president is clearly not a public servant or perhaps a commander-in-chief. He’s an influencer. And he will get his energy not from the folks however from Facebook and its enterprise mannequin of influencers and followers.
Power established on Facebook shouldn’t be “legitimate” in sociological phrases; it’s not energy, like that of a schoolteacher or elected official, that’s considered simply and applicable by these over whom it’s exercised. Far from it. “Influence” on Facebook relies on nothing however a (cheatable) level system in Facebook’s extremely stylized massively multiplayer role-playing recreation. But that doesn’t get talked about by anybody on this committee, which has been blinded, in the McLuhan sense, to the recreation’s contrivances. Influence on Facebook is nearer to affect in World of Warcraft than it’s to reputable energy. But as an alternative of calling out Facebook for making a system that confers unregulated and harmful “influence” on folks, they communicate of the abuse of that system by a delegated dangerous actor.