Facebook board decision on Trump ban pleases no one

Facebook’s Oversight Board’s long-awaited ruling on former President Trump’s account ban pushed the decision back to the Silicon Valley giant, fueling calls for government regulation and oversight from both sides of the aisle. 

Democrats and advocates have criticized the process and the board’s decision to leave open the ability for Trump to return, while Republicans have centered their criticism around accusations that Facebook is censoring conservatives through the ban. 

Trump, unsurprisingly, also slammed the decision — lumping together Facebook, Twitter and Google. 

“These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our Electoral Process,” Trump said in a statement. 

The board released a decision Wednesday upholding the ban on Trump, but the board also said it found that the indefinite suspension on Trump was not appropriate, and is requesting that Facebook review the decision and decide an “appropriate penalty” within six months. 

Facebook executive Nick Clegg confirmed Trump will remain suspended while the platform reviews the decision, and will determine an action that is “clear and appropriate.” 

But it may not be the end of the road for the case; Oversight Board co-chair Michael McConnell told reporters that there is a “substantial possibility” that whatever decision Facebook makes on Trump’s account may get pushed back to the panel. 

Facebook and its ostensibly independent board’s open-ended response to the high-profile case boosted calls for government oversight. 

“Our nation is still living with the consequences of the deadly insurrection Donald Trump incited, and there is a clear and present danger that he will do it again,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “The decision by Facebook’s self-funded panel upholds a minimal marker for truth and decency. Facebook must now decide what it values more: profits or holding Donald Trump accountable for espousing hate, disinformation, and violence.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said the extended ban is a “welcome step by Facebook,” but added that policymakers need to address “the root of these issues,” which includes “pushing for oversight and effective moderation mechanisms to hold platforms accountable for a business model that spreads real-world harm.”

House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) tweeted it is “clear that real accountability will only come with legislative action.” 

“Donald Trump has played a big role in helping Facebook spread disinformation, but whether he’s on the platform or not, Facebook and other social media platforms with the same business model will find ways to highlight divisive content to drive advertising revenues,” Pallone tweeted. 

“Every day, Facebook is amplifying and promoting disinformation and misinformation, and the structure and rules governing its oversight board generally seem to ignore this disturbing reality,” he continued. “It’s clear that real accountability will only come with legislative action.”

His Republican counterpart, ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), also slammed the process over its “sheer lack of transparency and accountability.” 

“Big Tech operates without clear, consistent moderation rules, and their appeals system lacks transparency. For the Oversight Board to punt such an important decision back to Facebook after months of secret deliberations calls into question their purpose,” she said in a statement. “This is unacceptable and only underscores the need for Congress to step up our work to bring much-needed reform and oversight to Big Tech.”

Other Republicans used the Oversight Board’s announcement to push calls for breaking up Facebook over its market power. 

House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee ranking member Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the board’s decision to uphold the ban. 

“The American people should fear any company that sees itself as so powerful it established a biased, quasi-judicial entity to adjudicate our First Amendment rights,” Buck said in a statement. 

“Facebook’s status as a monopoly has led its leaders to believe it can silence and censor Americans’ speech with no repercussions. Now more than ever we need aggressive antitrust reform to break up Facebook’s monopoly,” Buck added. 

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) tweeted “it’s time for conservatives to pursue an antitrust agenda,” and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) simply tweeted “break them up.” 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who has introduced a GOP proposal to revamp antitrust laws, called the decision a “real life example of the tyranny of #BigTech.” 

“That’s what monopolies do. Break them up,” he tweeted.

Advocates who largely panned the Oversight Board process from the outset said during a press conference organized by a group of advocates known as the Real Facebook Oversight Board that Wednesday’s ruling underscored the need for Congress to take action to revamp regulation on Facebook and other tech giants. 

“Facebook alone cannot police itself. An Oversight Board selected by Facebook, promoted by Facebook, organized by Facebook cannot be expected to hold Facebook accountable, nor can Facebook itself self-regulate,” said Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

“The time has long come for a policy intervention and for the kind of government oversight that is so woefully inadequate,” he added. “Every other industry where customers are harmed … the companies are held accountable.”

Shoshana Zuboff, a Harvard Business School professor, called the Oversight Board a “device intended to extend Facebook’s life as a self-regulating business, free from precisely the law, and democratic governance that we need.”

“If somebody like the biggest pharmaceutical company in the world said to us today, ‘Hey, we’re going to have our own oversight board and it’s going to decide if our products are safe and honest and efficacious,’ we would say, ‘No way.’ Because that kind of authority must be founded on objective criteria for public contest, subject to repair, because they are governed by public laws, and only public laws can enforce transparency and accountability,” Zuboff said. 

Other advocates who spoke during the press conference suggested eliminating special immunities for tech companies, such as Section 230. The provision is part of a 1996 law that provides tech companies legal liability protections for content posted by third parties. 

“They are free, however deliberately and however recklessly, to use their algorithms, to improve their bottom line, to improve their profits by encouraging hateful and violent speech, and then they can turn around and say, ‘Who, me? I didn’t do anything, I’m just a dumb pipe.’ That will not do,” said Harvard Law School processor Laurence Tribe. “They have to be held responsible. And that means that special immunities have to be eliminated, they have to be subject to the same kinds of responsibility everyone else is.”

Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, told The Hill that the board’s decision to kick back Trump’s case to Facebook provides the platform with an opportunity to right some wrongs from the initial suspension.

“I hope that Facebook would … say they were justified in removing Trump because of his use of the platform in a dangerous way and we’ve got to do a better job at explaining [the reasoning],” he said. “There’s a clear path for Facebook to move forward to improve, if not perfect, content moderation even as it applies to the most controversial cases.”

Chris Mills Rodrigo contributed.

Tags Big tech Cathy McMorris Rodgers Donald Trump Facebook Facebook ban Jim Jordan Josh Hawley Ken Buck Mark Warner oversight board Section 230 Social information processing Social media Trump Facebook ban
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