While Trump Complains About Facebook Takedowns, Facebook Is Helping Trump Take Down Content He Doesn't Like
from the oh,-look-at-that dept
You might have noticed in the last week or two that President Trump has suddenly jumped on the silly bandwagon suggesting that internet platforms like Facebook and Twitter don’t have a right to kick people off of their platforms. There have been a bunch of misleading tweets he’s made, but we’ll just post this one that kicked it all off:
In it, Trump says:
I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms. This is the United States of America — and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching, closely!!
Of course, “FREEDOM OF SPEECH” in the American context only applies to the government interfering with the rights of people to express themselves, and has no bearing on companies choosing to kick off people who it finds problematic. Indeed, part of the 1st Amendment is that it provides the platforms — as private entities — the right to determine who they associate with and who they don’t.
But a new Wired article suggests that there’s a striking contrast here, in that Facebook has someone who is quick to respond and to shut down the accounts of those designated by Trump’s government as undesirable. It’s difficult not to read this as somewhat hypocritical. The issue relates to another story we discussed last month, in which the Trump White House declared Iran’s IRGC a “foreign terrorist organization.” The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, is basically Iran’s military/security/law enforcement wing — and this is the first time that a governmental organization has been declared a foreign terrorist organization in the US. And Facebook immediately accepted this claim from the White House and banned any related accounts:
The day after Trump?s move, Instagram, a Facebook property, blocked the accounts of high-ranking Revolutionary Guard officers. And the next week The New York Times reported that Fishman had said Facebook would have zero tolerance for any group the US deems a terrorist organization.
In short, at the same time as Trump is incorrectly referencing the 1st Amendment with regards to Facebook’s private moderation decisions, his own White House is effectively able to dictate to Facebook what accounts need to be taken down:
So basically Trump can tell Facebook to de-platform any part of any foreign government?including, presumably, an entire foreign government?and Fishman, along with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, will reply with a crisp salute? Under Facebook?s current policy, that would seem to be the case.
Wired’s Robert Wright asks Facebook’s “global head of counterterrorism policy,” Brian Fishman, to defend this, and Fishman basically says “I’m just following orders”
When I asked Fishman to justify this policy, he said it?s designed to keep Facebook on the right side of the law, which prohibits Americans from providing ?material support? to any group deemed a ?Foreign Terrorist Organization.?
But, I replied, the law goes on to spell out the things that would constitute ?material support,? and none of them sound much like ?letting these groups post on your social media platform.? Fishman said, ?I?m not a lawyer. I?m a policy guy.?
You can understand why Facebook might wish to avoid falling afoul of material support for terrorism laws (though the few attempts to hit social media companies with this law have all failed miserably), but the end result is this bizarre situation in which the President is whining about blocking accounts on Facebook (which are actions by a private company in which the government has no say), while his own government is using its (questionable powers) to have accounts banned on Facebook (which potentially do have more actual 1st Amendment implications).