is trying, by progressive demand, to referee American politics, and the results aren’t pretty. On Friday the social-media giant issued two new decisions—first,
will remain banned from the platform until at least Jan. 7, 2023; and second, posts by politicians will be subject to more scrutiny by the company’s censors.
The Trump decision seems like another political hedge. The company initially banned the President indefinitely after his role in the Capitol riot of Jan. 6. Then it asked its liberal-leaning Oversight Board of academics, activists and others to decide whether that ban was OK. A majority said the ban was acceptable at the time, but couldn’t be “indefinite.”
The company has responded to this decision by the quasi-court by creating a quasi-sentencing range for politicians who act badly on Facebook, with bans ranging from one month to two years. It says Mr. Trump’s actions deserve “the highest penalty.”
Yet that’s a minimum sentence, not a maximum one. Facebook says Mr. Trump’s ban could be extended if “there is still a serious risk to public safety.” The company “will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded.”
This comes the week after Facebook was forced, in embarrassing fashion, to reverse its censorship of commentary about the origins of the coronavirus after the “expert” consensus ruling out a lab leak collapsed. Any “expert” view about the nature of the threat of future political violence—from Trump supporters or any other source—will be political.
The January 2023 mark also coincides with the beginning of the next Congress. Until that time, Democrats will control both houses of Congress. But if Republicans perform well in the 2022 elections, they may again have subpoena power to investigate Facebook and haul executives before committees. Big Tech companies increasingly regulate content in response to political threats and directives, so if Democrats perform well, a continued Trump ban is more likely.
Facebook also indicated that more speech by politicians may be taken down in the future. The company has previously said it would refrain from censoring politicians because their views are important for the public to see. That was a sound judgment that helped avoid tying up the social-media firm in political fights.
Yet now Facebook says that “when we assess content for newsworthiness, we will not treat content posted by politicians any differently from content posted by anyone else.” That has a faux-egalitarian ring to it, but it really empowers Facebook’s executives at the expense of voters in a democracy, as each side lobbies to have arguments by their political opponents suppressed.
The new direction also runs headlong into the policy preferences of Florida’s GOP Legislature. The state last month passed a bill banning social-media censorship of journalistic enterprises and political candidates. That’s being challenged in court, but it reflects a defensible view that elections ought not to be excessively influenced by arbitrary preferences of tech giants. Social media and the Republican Party remain on a collision course that may not end well for either.
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Appeared in the June 5, 2021, print edition.