Our feeds have become over the years — especially since one of their most adept user became President of the United States — our online lives’ public avenues, parks and streets. We use these places like we do their physical counterparts, forgetting that their rules are not, in fact, determined by the community.
When governments impose lockdowns and curfews, we accept them- albeit begrudgingly- yet, when a Tech CEO makes a highly publicized excommunication decision, we shiver. Is that because we know and experience the process by which we entrust our political leaders with their power- but we play no part in elaborating the rules that govern our online lives?
Debating ad nauseam Twitter’s decision and whether it could have acted differently shortchanges the key question of perceived legitimacy. The problem with de-platforming is not whether it is the right thing to do, it is whether the right ingredients are in place for a platform decision- one way or another- to be seen as legitimate.
It is hard to believe legitimacy can be solved only through government oversight. Today’s governments struggle themselves to appear legitimate. Plus, if democratic choices lead to the election of autocratic leaders, you could argue legitimacy from a platform’s perspective would come from “doing what’s right” against democratically established rules.
Platforms’ best attempt to date, according to Evelyn Douek a lecturer at Harvard Law School and affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center, lies instead with Facebook’s Oversight Board. The Board has built-in flaws: it is not entirely representative of the world’s diversity, it is not elected, it is affiliated with (although independent from) Facebook. Yet, the Board is the industry’s most significant attempt to-date at creating legitimacy through procedural fairness.
As it re-evaluates Facebook’s decision to ban Trump’s account, we should all be paying close attention to not only the decision that is made, but to how it is made and whether to whether process can conjure legitimacy.