May 6, 2021

Trump’s Facebook Suspension

Sponsored by

Traditional business news is painfully dry and littered with jargon. For unbiased business news that's actually worth reading, we turn to The Daily Upside. Every weekday The Daily Upside newsletter delivers timely insights and stories you simply won't find elsewhere.

Sign up for free and get smarter every day.

“Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) oversight board on Wednesday upheld the company’s suspension of former U.S. President Donald Trump but said the company was wrong to make the suspension indefinite and gave it six months to determine a ‘proportionate response.’” Reuters

See past issues

From the Left

The left is supportive of the decision, arguing in favor of Trump’s ban, but also that voluntary oversight is not sufficient to guarantee accountability.

“The impression you get from the ruling is that Facebook had no agreed-upon procedures in place to deal with the possibility of a sitting president congratulating rioters who were challenging an election that the same president had told them was rigged. When the sitting president in question was Donald Trump, this seems like something Facebook might have planned for. But also, in a sane world, why should it have to—and why should the actions of a single corporation matter so much to American democracy?…

The oversight board represents a heroic attempt to solve an unsolvable problem: concentrated, unaccountable power. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t try, and today’s ruling is a welcome attempt to find a constructive way forward. The judgment concludes by urging Facebook to undertake a ‘comprehensive review’ of whether its policies contributed to the narrative of a stolen election, the violence at the Capitol on January 6, and ‘the design and policy choices that Facebook has made that may enable its platform to be abused.’…

“That is entirely correct. There’s just one tiny problem: If Facebook refuses, there is absolutely nothing the board can do about it.”
Helen Lewis, The Atlantic

“This is accountability theater and hardly a structural or scalable solution for a platform where Trump is certainly not the only spreader of disinformation and lies about issues ranging from the 2020 election to COVID-19. The board can review individual cases but lacks the authority to change broader policy at Facebook

“If dealing with one decision takes months, how will the company and this board ever deal with policing the actual volume of posts shared?… Third, let’s look at what was not investigated by the Oversight Board — and, in fact, cannot be investigated by the board’s own mandate: algorithmic amplification, groups and advertisements. The real engines behind Facebook’s societal harms are totally outside the board’s scope.”
Marietje Schaake, Los Angeles Times

“In Zuckerberg’s framing, this is a 1st Amendment issue. But providing a microphone and an amplifier for deceit isn’t fighting the good fight for free speech. People do, in fact, have a free-speech right to lie in certain circumstances. But no one is entitled to have his or her views spread over Facebook’s vast network. It’s entirely up to Facebook to decide the rules governing who gets to use the platform it built and how they get to use it…

“One can’t help but suspect that Facebook’s refusal to fact-check politicians’ ads and its ‘newsworthiness’ loophole were based at least as much on ad-revenue ambitions as 1st Amendment ideals.”
Jon Healey, Los Angeles Times

“Ultimately if the business model that generates breathtaking returns is causing persistent and widespread harm that the company is failing to mitigate, it needs to be regulated. Many other industries’ practices and business models are regulated for the same reason. Tech companies need to be held accountable for failing to mitigate harms caused by targeted advertising and algorithmic amplification for the same reason that the law holds companies in a range of sectors accountable for labor practices and environmental, health, and safety risks.”
Rebecca MacKinnon, Slate

“The citizens of any country have an interest in hearing what powerful people really think, so that they may hold them to account, but those powerful people also have the greatest capacity to do damage. The board offered nonbinding input on Facebook’s guidelines well worth paying attention to

“Facebook, it said, may craft a so-called newsworthiness exemption that generally safeguards the speech of influential figures, but it should also send posts from these figures through a specialized rapid-review process to assess their potential to do significant harm. What’s more, when that potential is present, ‘considerations of newsworthiness should not take priority’ over urgent action…

“Facebook should adopt these recommendations, along with a clear and consistent system for disciplining offenders that corresponds with the hazard they pose — including the final sanction of permanent exile… When Internet platforms have made exemptions for politicians, they’ve claimed the carve-outs exist in the interest of democracy. It follows that deliberate attempts to subvert democracy should override those exemptions — and carry the steepest costs.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

From the Right

The right is critical of the decision, arguing that Facebook should adopt speech-protection standards similar to those guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The right is critical of the decision, arguing that Facebook should adopt speech-protection standards similar to those guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“In its wisdom, the Facebook oversight board said that it was ‘not permissible’ for Facebook to impose an indeterminate, standardless penalty of indefinite suspension on Trump — then upheld the suspension! It called on Facebook to review the suspension within six months and made some suggestions toward developing rules to follow in such cases, which has an Alice in Wonderland quality to it — verdict first, rules about whether the verdict is correct or not later…

“The oversight board underlines the astonishing fact that in reaching its most momentous free-speech decision ever in this country, in determining whether a former president of the United States can use its platform or not, Facebook made it up on the fly. ‘In applying this penalty,’ the board writes of the suspension, ‘Facebook did not follow a clear, published procedure.’…

“This is like the U.S. Supreme Court handing down decisions in the absence of a written Constitution, or a home-plate umpire calling balls and strikes without an agreed-upon strike zone.”
Rich Lowry, Politico

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) writes, “Here we are, with an unelected and unaccountable ‘oversight board’ of academics, journalists, lawyers, and activists determining whether a former United States president who recently received 74 million votes from the American public may participate in the modern-day public square. As the former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, I dealt on a daily basis with China. This type of censorship regime is what I would have expected from the Chinese Communist Party, not Silicon Valley…

“Telephone companies do not shut off your phone line based on what political views you express during calls. The same logic should apply today to Big Tech. This is especially true given Big Tech’s unique control over today’s public square…

“A series of court decisions has limited the extent to which political figures can delete comments or bar users from interacting with their social media posts, noting that the First Amendment does not permit politicians to pick and choose who interacts with them in the public square. Likewise, we should not allow Big Tech to decide which political figures are allowed to participate in the public square.”
Bill Hagerty, Fox News

“Indeed, the Atlantic published an article by Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods calling for Chinese-style censorship of the internet. They declared that ‘in the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong’ and ‘significant monitoring and speech control are inevitable components of a mature and flourishing internet.’…

“The alliance between political figures and these companies is particularly chilling. Big Tech has allowed for the creation of a state media without the state. Recently, Twitter admitted that it is censoring criticism of India’s government over its handling of the pandemic because such views are deemed illegal in India. Facebook has been accused of censoring the views of Sikhs raising genocide concerns. Governments can now outsource censorship duties to Big Tech, which benefits from government support ranging from immunity to taxation laws…

“Many of us are not impressed by Facebook’s effort to work out its censorship standards because they are  based on a premise of censorship. The internet was once the greatest creation for free speech in history. It is now being converted into a managed space for corporate-approved viewpoints.”
Jonathan Turley, Fox News

“Zuckerberg should take this opportunity to expressly adopt the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions regarding when speech loses its First Amendment protections. The court held in Brandenburg v. Ohio that speech loses its constitutional protection only when ‘such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.’…

“The Brandenburg standard also allows most political speech, even those statements with arguably violent connotations or undemocratic implications, to remain undisturbed. That, too, is appropriate for a free and democratic country. Political speech is often designed to incite the passions… Zuckerberg should grab the baton the board has handed him and unambiguously commit his private power to a standard that promotes vigorous public discourse.”
Henry Olsen, Washington Post

A libertarian's take

“Facebook is indeed a powerful and influential company, but [its critics] all need a reality check. The social media site does not wield nearly as much power as actual governments. Facebook doesn't drop bombs on its enemies or send troops to bust down their doors and kill them. Facebook can't put people in jail, or confiscate their money, or forbid them from gathering in groups, or force children as young as three to wear masks while they play sports outside. The only thing Facebook can do is stop people from posting on Facebook…

“While liberals and conservatives can't agree on which side is supposedly receiving an unfair advantage from social media, they increasingly agree on the solution: break up Big Tech. Progressives like this approach because punishing big corporations for sheer bigness is a time-honored liberal tradition, and conservatives like this approach because it will make Mark Zuckerberg rue the day he crossed them. Why anyone should expect Facebook's smaller successor companies to have superior moderation policies is never explained.”
Robby Soave, Reason

Get troll-free political news.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.