Facebook’s Investigation of its Role Leading Up to Jan. 6
One of the most consequential recommendations the FOB made was for Facebook to “undertake a comprehensive review of its potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud and the exacerbated tensions that culminated in the violence in the United States on January 6, 2021.” BuzzFeed has reported that even before the FOB’s decision, Facebook had created such a report internally, but the FOB’s recommendation was specifically for an “open reflection.” Interestingly, the FOB’s recommendation became a focal point for public pressure: for example, Bob Bauer, who advised Biden’s presidential campaign and served as White House Counsel during the Obama administration, called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to make “an unequivocal commitment to the complete and public review suggested by the Oversight Board.”
Unfortunately, neither Bauer’s plea nor the FOB’s recommendation worked to any substantial extent. Facebook did not commit itself to any further public reflection on the role it played in the election fraud narrative that sparked violence in the United States on January 6, 2021. It pointed to existing research partnerships with independent researchers, and did extend the amount of data it will provide them. Facebook also highlighted its previous enforcement actions against groups like QAnon. But it said “the responsibility for January 6, 2021, lies with the insurrectionists and those who encouraged them” and its only further commitment is to “continue to cooperate with law enforcement and US government investigations related to the events on January 6.” This is extremely disappointing. Of course the blame for Jan. 6 does not lie entirely, or perhaps even primarily, with Facebook. Other institutions also desperately need to hold themselves accountable. But the dramatic failure of other institutions does not mean that Facebook should not have seized this opportunity to do better and to add to the public record about what enabled the insurrection to happen.