The Facebook Board, Trump and Section 230

facebookFacebook's "supreme court" decided recently to uphold the ban on Donald Trump. For Trump, Facebook was never his vector of choice to get out his messages. He used Twitter and they banned him for life.

The Faceboard board upheld the company's decision to remove Trump. The ban had come after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Their claim had been that he had broken Facebook's rules about praising violence.

The board actually criticized the company for the indefinite suspension. They recommended that the company either ban Trump permanently or set a time frame for when he can return. Facebook said it's now considering the ruling and will determine a "clear and proportionate" action.

The problem is one for a number of social sites that have unmoderated content. So why not moderate user content? For one thing, it is difficult and labor-intensive (though companies are trying have AI help. But another thing concerns Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which was passed in 1996. It says that an “interactive computer service” can’t be treated as the publisher or speaker of third-party content. This protects websites from lawsuits if a user posts something illegal (there are exceptions for copyright violations, sex work-related material, and violations of federal criminal law). Section 230 was written so website owners could moderate sites without worrying about legal liability and it is critical for social media networks, though it applies to many sites and services, including news outlets with comment sections. The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls it “the most important law protecting internet speech.”

The decision the board handed down is more about Facebook than it is about Trump and it was more critical about the way Facebook enforces its rules in what it sees as an arbitrary way. Not so much in support of Trump, the board felt that an indefinite suspension appeared nowhere in Facebook's rules and violates principles of freedom of expression.

Interestingly, President Donald Trump released an executive order targeting Section 230 and social media back in May 2020 and he ly backed Republican efforts to change the law in Congress. After President Biden’s election, he has pushed for the abolition of Section 230 abolition.

We haven't heard the last of Trump, Facebook, or Section 230.


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