September 23, 2021

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Conservatives Demand Supreme Court Overrule Fake Facebook Court, Others Weigh In

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Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Facebook’s Oversight Board, the pseudo-legalistic, questionably independent body that the company claims has the power to review and potentially overrule official moderation decisions, issued its not-so-final proclamations regarding the status of Donald Trump’s account.

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The now-former president has been suspended from Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram after inciting deadly riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an ill-fated bid to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 elections. In short, the board punted right back to Facebook, upholding the suspension itself but claiming Facebook arbitrarily made up rules regarding “indefinite” bans to handle the Trump situation. The Oversight Board told Facebook to make an actual decision to either permanently ban Trump or unlock his account within six months.

As with everything regarding this godawful company, the inevitable pile-on took a clear partisan split. Republicans and right-wingers viewed the decision not to allow Trump back on the site—which could potentially have ramifications for any attempt at a political resurgence—as an affront on their values and free speech. Democrats and civil rights groups, for their part, generally expressed relief that the Oversight Board spared the country yet more angry posts from the ex-president but also focused on the ludicrousness of the entire venture.

As it turns out, the only people to have swallowed Facebook’s attempts to brand the Oversight Board as a pseudo-governmental arm of a sovereign entity hook, line, and sinker are right-wingers. Suddenly confronted with a vision of corporate dystopia they didn’t like, some Republicans turned to a higher power for help— among them Charlie Kirk, head of the ebullient diaper lad campus Republican and Facebook-spamming organization Turning Point USA. No, we don’t mean God, just something else equally as unlikely to intervene: the Supreme Court.

Kirk tweeted:

The US Supreme Court should overturn the Facebook’s ‘Oversight Board’s” ‘ruling’ which upholds the outlawing of the 45th President of the United States from social media.

This is a big tech, corporate oligarchy without standing and it’s gone too far. Enough is enough.

(The decision is not subject to review by SCOTUS, unless the type of lawsuit that has historically been laughed out of lower courts somehow makes it there, and the justices all decide to join Justice Clarence Thomas in throwing out decades of precedent and law to declare digital platforms as common carriers who can’t ban anyone.)

Kirk’s panicked viewpoint was mimicked by conservative pundit J.D. Vance, author of the loathsome Hillbilly Elegy and who has graduated from self-declared Trump supporter whisperer to prospective Ohio Senate candidate.

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Vance tweeted:

The Facebook oversight board has more power than the United Nations.

Conservatives were right to worry about giving our sovereignty away to a multinational institution. We just picked the wrong one.

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Will Chamberlain, co-publisher of right-wing magazine Human Events, tweeted, “A corporate committee has no more legitimacy to rule on censorship issues than a random anon on Twitter.” Random QAnon conspiracy theorist turned congresswoman Lauren Boebert, issued a vague threat: “Facebook will pay the price. Mark my words.”

More generally, Republicans used the Oversight Board ruling as an opportunity to continue harping on endlessly about alleged anti-conservative bias in Facebook algorithms (pure bullshit, as right-wing pundits and media consistently make up the bulk of the site’s top performers). According to CNN, the usual circus of right-wing sites including Fox, Breitbart, and Gateway Pundit all led with coverage declaring the decision as Orwellian censorship. Senator Tom Cotton said that the Oversight Board shouldn’t be weighing in on “issues of free speech,” while former White House chief of staff turned radio host Mark Meadows and guest Representative Jim Jordan both agreed it was time to “break them [Big Tech] up.”

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Trump issued a statement to several media outlets that we don’t give a shit about.

The reaction from Democrats and activist organizations focused less on the fate of Trump than the convoluted, corporate funhouse carnival process by which the decision was made, as well as whether it was meaningful at all.

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Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tweeted, “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 added that “real accountability will only come with legislative action.”

Evan Greer, director of digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, told Gizmodo in a statement, “The vast majority of people who are silenced by Big Tech platform censorship are not former Presidents or celebrities, they are marginalized people, particularly sex workers and politically active Muslims who live outside the U.S. We can go back and forth all day about where the lines should be drawn, but simply demanding more and faster removal of content will not address the very real harms we are seeing.”

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“It’s quite telling that Facebook refused to answer several of the Oversight Board’s questions about its algorithms and actual design decisions,” Greer added. “We need to strike at the root of the problem: break Big Tech giants, ban surveillance advertising and non-transparent algorithmic manipulation, and fight for policies that address this parasitic business model while preserving the transformative and democratizing power of the Internet as a powerful tool for social movements working for justice and liberation.”

David Segal, executive director of the Demand Progress Education Fund, a nonprofit that advocates enforcement of antitrust law, told Gizmodo in a statement that the Oversight Board is a smokescreen for Facebook’s business practices.

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“Facebook’s monopoly status means it does not compete in a free marketplace: not on privacy, not on algorithms, not in the online advertising market–which accelerates the spread of incendiary content,” Segal wrote. “To the extent anyone focuses on what the Facebook ‘Oversight’ Board says and not what they are—a mechanism to distract attention from and provide credibility to Facebook—we give Facebook a pass for its unfair and dangerous monopolistic practice.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights Under Law, a civil rights group, focused on the Oversight Board’s decision not to ban Trump outright.

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David Brody, the head of the group’s Digital Justice Initiative, wrote to Gizmodo that “Facebook must immediately and permanently ban former President Trump.” He added the Oversight Board’s decision “did not evaluate the full context of the case and it used legal technicalities to avoid answering hard questions. For example, it failed to address Trump’s repeated use of Facebook to inflame hate and racism, or his long history of spreading divisive lies and disinformation prior to the 2020 election. Over-reliance on formalist schools of legal analysis entrenches dominant power structures by turning a blind eye to the big picture.”

Greer told Gizmodo that while there is growing pressure to act against Facebook for its monopolistic business practices, lack of transparency, and monetization of hate speech and propaganda, ill-advised legislation seeking to rein in the company’s power could do more harm than good. For example, Republicans and Democrats alike have targeted Section 230, the law that shields websites from most liability for user-generated content, with legislation that could have unforeseen consequences or threaten the legal foundations of the internet economy.

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“The most dangerous thing that could happen right now is if the public accepts the idea that lawmakers should just do ‘something, anything’ about Big Tech,” Greer wrote. “We need thoughtful policies that actually address harms, not more partisan dunking and working of the refs.”

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