A phone display shows a Facebook logo with the official portrait of former President Donald Trump in the background.
Olivier Douliery / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images
tries to judge American politics on progressive demand and the results are not good. On Friday, the social media giant issued two new decisions – first,
remains blocked from the platform at least until January 7, 2023; and second, contributions by politicians are subject to more scrutiny by the company’s censors.
The Trump decision seems to be another political safeguard. The company initially banned the president indefinitely after his role in the January 6 Capitol Uprising. It then asked its liberal board of directors of academics, activists, and others to decide whether this ban was okay. A majority said the ban was acceptable at the time, but could not be “indefinite”.
The company responded to this decision by the quasi-court by creating a quasi-penal framework for politicians who behave badly on Facebook, with bans ranging from one month to two years. It states that Mr. Trump’s actions deserve “the highest punishment”.
But that is a minimum penalty, not a maximum penalty. Facebook says Mr Trump’s ban could be extended if “there is still a serious risk to public safety”. The company “will use experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has decreased”.
This comes the week after Facebook was embarrassedly forced to lift its censorship of comments on the origins of the coronavirus after the “expert” consensus failed to rule out a laboratory leak. Any “expert opinion” about the nature of the threat from future political violence – from Trump supporters or any other source – will be political.
January 2023 also coincides with the start of the next congress. Until then, the Democrats will control both houses of Congress. But if Republicans do well in the 2022 election, they could again have subpoenas to investigate Facebook and bring executives to committees. Big tech companies are increasingly regulating content in response to political threats and guidelines. So if the Democrats are doing well, a continued Trump ban is more likely.
Facebook also hinted that more speeches from politicians could be removed in the future. The company previously announced it would not censor politicians because their views are important to the public. That was a sensible judgment that helped keep the social media company out of political battles.
But now Facebook says that “when we evaluate content for newsworthiness, we do not treat content posted by politicians any differently than content posted by others.” This has a false-egalitarian sound to it, but it really empowers Facebook leaders at the expense of voters in a democracy, as each side lobbies for arguments from their political opponents to be suppressed.
The new direction also goes headlong into the political preferences of Florida GOP legislation. The state passed a law last month banning censorship of journalistic companies and political candidates on social media. This is being challenged in court, but it reflects a tenable view that elections should not be unduly influenced by the arbitrary preferences of tech giants. Social media and the Republican Party remain on a collision course that may not end well for either.
Wunderland: “Systemic racism” was imposed on the students until politics pushed back. Pictures: AP / Everett Collection Composite: Mark Kelly
Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Published in the print edition on June 5, 2021.