Trump’s Facebook Ban: Trump may never be able to interact inside the world’s largest online community ever again. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Trump’s Facebook Ban
China is the world’s most populous country with over 1.4 billion people living inside its borders. Next is India with 1.3 billion citizens. Narendra Modi governs over the latter while Xi Jinping rules over the former. In fact, Xi recently adopted the title of “helmsman,” a descriptor that hasn’t been used since Mao Zedong and one that denotes ultimate authority. Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, is just a chairman and Chief Executive Officer. But he’s also the controlling shareholder, or “helmsman,” of Facebook, which has 2.8 billion total monthly active users. This, of course, exceeds the total populations of China and India combined. On Wednesday, Facebook’s independent oversight board — a quasi-judicial branch of the company — ruled that the social media giant was justified in banning then-President Donald Trump from its platform after the Jan. 6 US Capitol riot. The board did not elaborate on if or why Trump should be permanently locked out. Therefore, they’re now giving Facebook and its controlling shareholder Mark Zuckerberg six months to determine if the former President should be permanently banished. In a world that’s grown increasingly digital, here’s what both sides are saying about the decision and the prospects of Trump potentially never being able to set foot inside the world’s largest online community ever again.
On The Right
The right views the moderation commission as a marriage between big tech and progressive politics in the pursuit of political censorship. They believe this will profoundly impact the mechanics of democracy and that it necessitates a thorough public debate.
Veneer of Objectivity: In USA Today, Rachel Bovard describes Facebook as an “unaccountable private platform” with the “raw power” to “memory-hole a president of the United States.” She states the company’s decision on which stories to suppress or amplify “changes the flow of information, opinion formation, and the nature of independent thought around the world for billions of people at a time.” Bovard believes Facebook is using the oversight board to justify their “entirely subjective content moderation decisions,” reflecting a “veneer of objectivity and expertise.” She calls this “censorship at scale” and accuses the social media giant of “enforcing an ideological agenda that protects prominent progressives from criticism” and cultivates a “kind of groupthink.” Ultimately, Bovard contends that no “private platform should have this kind of power,” predicting an ongoing “cat and mouse game” between “corporate overlords” and American-style democracy that “depends on pluralism, dissent, and the ability to speak and be heard in our global, digital public square.”
State Media Without a State: Similarly, Jonathan Turley characterizes Facebook’s efforts as unfair censorship in Fox News. He says in its pitch to younger Americans, Facebook uses the term “‘content modification’ instead of ‘censorship,’” which Turley describes as “Orwellian.” This is well received by this cohort, who, based on polling, “are more open to censorship after years of speech regulation in their high schools and colleges.” Turley believes it is now dangerously apparent that corporations have a “far greater ability to curtail speech” than ever before. Essentially, he claims, America now has “a type of state media without the state.”
Finally, in The Hill, former Facebook executive Katie Harbath wonders “how Facebook will handle other elected officials and world leaders” if they kick Trump off the platform for good. She claims this will immediately lead to “pressure from all sides to start removing more people from the platform who they think violate the companies standards.” Harbath considers the “far-reaching consequences for elections and democracy” if “more candidates from one party are removed.” After all, she asks, “Why should the world be beholden to standards written by corporate CEOs and not democratically elected representatives?” Harbath believes answering these questions will require a “robust public debate between citizens, companies, governments, civil society, and the media.” Harbath is a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center therefore she might not fall directly on the right. However, her argument is one that has been echoed by conservatives. For example, after the ruling Congressman Ken Buck tweeted: “Facebook allows human traffickers and the Foreign Minister of Iran to use its platform. There is no reason the former President should be permanently banned. Facebook should reinstate Trump’s account.”
On The Left
Pundits on the left generally want to see Trump permanently banned from Facebook.They also call for enhanced moderation of content that divides and polarizes the populace and undermines democracy.
Delusional Narratives: Adam Conner, writing in NBC News, applauds “both Facebook and its Oversight Board” for examining “the inadequacy of its rules [that] allowed Facebook and Instagram to become a primary means through which the president of the United States attempted to subvert and dismantle American democracy.” Conner documents 225 Trump posts that “included fraudulent claims of victory, baseless allegations of election fraud, or delusional narratives of how the results of a democratic election could somehow be changed or manipulated after the fact.” He urges Facebook to keep Trump away from the platform to prevent him from restarting “his assault on democracy.” Going further, Conner states Big Tech must “take all necessary steps at their disposal to prevent their platforms from being used by political leaders to spread propaganda to undermine democracies ever again, both here in the US and in other countries.”
Algos Need to Be Updated: Jennifer Rubin also argues for keeping Trump off Facebook in The Washington Post. In her telling, Trump has “habitually reaffirmed the Big Lie that the election was stolen and denied his own role in setting off the violent riot that left five people dead and injured scores more.” Rubin calls on Facebook to follow through on the ban, demonstrating the company is “serious about enforcing its own standards.” While they’re at it, she demands a crack down on “hate speech” as well as algorithms that “encourage polarization and extremism.” Ultimately, Rubin is puzzled about why the Oversight Board is kicking the can down the road. She asks: “Is Facebook waiting for [Trump] to incite the next riot before really, absolutely banning him for good?
Lastly, writing for MSNBC, Steve Benen employs a light-hearted approach and pokes fun at Trump’s new media platform. He calls it “hilariously underwhelming” and writes that describing it as a “communications platform” is “generous to the point of comedy.” In actuality, Benen believes Team Trump created “a rudimentary blog for the former president” that is no “more impressive than a website the teenager who lives on your block could’ve thrown together in an afternoon.”
Flag This: Trump’s Facebook Ban
The public is split along party lines in regards to whether or not they think Trump’s accounts should be permanently banned from social media. Half of the country thinks they should not be, while 49% of US adults think they should be. “Just 11% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say Trump’s accounts should be permanently banned… while 88% say they should not be,” according to an April survey from the Pew Research Center. “By comparison, 81% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say his accounts should be banned permanently [while] roughly one-in-five Democrats (18%) do not support this type of ban on Trump’s accounts.” This may seem black and white, and to some extent it is, but there’s some subtle bipartisanship emerging when it comes to the topic of Big Tech in Washington.
Slow Bern: For Starters, one Democrat who does not support the ban is Sen. Bernie Sanders. He’s not the biggest fan of Donald Trump, but he also doesn’t “feel comfortable” about the former president being locked out from social media. Sanders said on the “The Ezra Klein Show” that he doesn’t “like giving that much power to a handful of high tech people.” He warned, “Tomorrow, it could be somebody else.” Overseas, Germany and France have also expressed their opposition to Trump’s Twitter exile with Chancellor Merkel calling Trump’s ban on Twitter ‘problematic.’
A Tweet Within a Tweet: Meanwhile, after the ruling yesterday something interesting happened. Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who helped break the story about Edward Snowden and semi-regular fixture on Tucker Carlson’s show, tweeted about how “Many Republican and conservative members of Congress are going to spend the day expressing indignation over Facebook’s monopoly power, vowing to break them up.” “Great!” he said. “There’s a Dem majority on the House Antitrust Subcommittee waiting to do it. Join them! Put rhetoric into action.” This call for bipartisanship was echoed by Democratic Presidential Candidate Marianne Williamson who said, “Facebook should be broken up into itty bitty tiny pieces.” At the end of the day Facebook’s board decision pleases no one, but a blip of bipartisanship is surfacing as a result.
Flag Poll: Trump’s Facebook Ban
Do you think former President Trump’s accounts should or should not be banned permanently from social media sites? Comment below to share your thoughts.
Bonus: Connecting the dots to the country comparisons up top, here’s a hot take from last summer: Facebook is out of control. If it were a country, it would be North Korea.