Facebook Oversight Board’s censorship decisions entirely ‘standardless,’ law prof says
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May 11, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The so-called Facebook Oversight Board’s decision to uphold the permanent ban of former President Donald Trump from the platform only underscores the subjective nature of the entire enterprise, argues George Washington University constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley.
Social media giants’ self-appointed role as arbiters of “misinformation” and “dangerous speech” relating to topics ranging from COVID-19 to election fraud has been a growing issue of concern among conservatives, given tech companies’ infamous left-wing bias. Since the 2020 presidential election, and particularly the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol building, those efforts have accelerated further still.
The riot was used as a pretext to ban Trump from Twitter and Facebook. The latter company’s “oversight board” announced last week it was upholding Facebook’s decision, while at the same time calling its indefinite nature “standardless” and calling on the company to “review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform” within six months.
“So Trump will still get the boot for now. Facebook in the meantime will continue its insidious campaign to get people to ‘evolve’ on regulations impacting privacy and free speech,” writes Turley. “The company – and the Board – start from the assumption that it can and should censor views deemed ‘misinformation’ or dangerous. The starting position therefore is that censorship is justified and that content neutrality is dangerous.”
“The Board’s position on the standardless policy on permanent bans ignores that its temporary suspension policy is equally standardless,” he continues. “The company cited the response to Trump’s speech by third parties as opposed to a specific call by Trump to commit violence. It does not take the same position when similar words are used by figures like Rep. Maxine Water (D., Cal.) during protests.”
“The common rationalization is that these companies are not subject to the First Amendment so there is no free speech issue,” Turley notes. “The First Amendment is not synonymous with broader values of free speech. Private companies can still destroy free speech through private censorship. This is particularly the case with companies who not only run platforms for communications but received immunity from lawsuit under the view that they would be neutral providers of such platforms. Imagine if your telephone company took it upon itself to intervene in phone calls to object to something you just said or ban you from further calls for spreading misinformation.”
“Some of us believe free speech is a human right that is defined by values beyond the confines of the First Amendment,” he says.
The increasing brazenness of Big Tech’s actions against conservative speech has elicited numerous calls from conservatives for government intervention. Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a new law imposing strict limits on social media platforms’ ability to censor political candidates and journalistic enterprises, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has suggested social media companies be regulated akin to “common carriers” of information such as phone companies.