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Facebook enters a ‘game of ping pong’ over Trump ban

May 6, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

Facebook’s Oversight Board was faced with its biggest decision since it started taking cases last year: Should former President Donald Trump be banned from Facebook? But instead of providing a clear answer, the board chose the path of least resistance.

Facebook indefinitely suspended Trump from its service one day after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, saying that the risk for further incitement was too great to allow Trump to keep posting. It was a big move from a company that not only had taken a light-handed approach to moderating Trump and other politicians but also had defended those decisions amid major backlash.

Two weeks later, when it was expected to make a decision on whether to continue Trump’s ban, Facebook passed the buck to the Oversight Board, the company’s Supreme Court-like entity for tough content-moderation decisions. It was “important” that the board to review the issue given its “significance,” Facebook’s chief spokesman and public policy officer Nick Clegg said at the time. The move eased the pressure off Facebook—and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg—and dumped the problem on the board.

After more than 100 days since taking the case, the board said Wednesday that Facebook had “sufficient justification” to suspend Trump given the heightened risk of violence. But indefinitely suspending Trump without any criteria of when or whether it would end was “improper,” it said. Finally, it said Facebook needed to decide whether the suspension would be permanent, not the board. The board gave Facebook six months to make the decision and admitted that the the issue could end up back on the board’s docket once that happens.

To summarize the decision: Facebook was right…but it was also wrong. And the board made the decision…for Facebook to make the decision. But also, the company’s decision may ultimately be a decision for the board. Are we clear?

Critics from all sides were quick to blast the ruling. And some suggested the update just proves how pointless, and perhaps powerless, the board really is.

“The game of ping-pong must end,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League and member of an unofficial oversight board of Facebook. “We need the real game. The game of oversight and monitoring that only the government [can provide].”

But the board patted itself on the back for making various recommendations, including that Facebook publish a review of how it may have contributed to the Capitol riot, and for denouncing Facebook’s sloppy handling of the Trump ban. “Anyone who’s concerned about Facebook’s excessive concentration of power should welcome the oversight board clearly telling Facebook that they cannot invent new unwritten rules when it suits them,” said board member Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s former prime minister.

While clear rules and consistent enforcement on Facebook would be a welcomed change, so would a firm decision on what world leaders can say on the service. Your move, Zuck.

Danielle Abril
@DanielleDigest
danielle.abril@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Tweeps take a stand. Facebook isn’t the only company trying to figure out how it should handle world leaders on its service. Twitter, which banned former President Donald Trump from its service on Jan. 9, said a record 49,000 people responded to a survey it conducted on the matter. Twitter asked users whether they thought the service should take greater or less action against world leaders who violate the rules compared to regular users. It also asked a series of hypothetical questions, Reuters reports. But the social network has not yet tipped its hand to the findings of the survey.

Fatal filters. Snapchat has been at the forefront of some of the most creative augmented reality filters that can make users morph into puppies, superheroes, or even the opposite gender. But the filters may cause Snap to pay some major consequences after three young men died in a car accident. The driver, who used Snapchat’s speed filter to capture the car’s speed, was traveling at 123 miles per hour when he crashed. Now a federal appeals court says the parents of the deceased have the right to sue Snap.

An Uber better quarter. Uber’s first-quarter earnings showed that the company narrowed its losses, as its business is boosted by food delivery demand and benefitted from the sale of self-driving unit. The company reported that it lost $108 million during the quarter, down from a loss of $968 million in the same quarter last year. The change is partially credited to the $1.6 billion sale of its self-driving unit Advanced Technology Group to Aurora Innovation. Meanwhile, Uber Eats generated $1.7 billion for the quarter, an increase of 28% year over year.

PayPal’s big pay day. PayPal reported record earnings of $1.1 billion during its first quarter, as the number of transactions flowing through its services booms. The company said it generated $6.03 billion, a 31% increase year over year. PayPal CEO Dan Schulman said the results point to a shift in consumer’s digital behavior that may long outlive the coronavirus pandemic. PayPal also highlighted the growth in payment volume of Venmo, its peer-to-peer payment app, which was up 63%.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The public may be familiar with the complexity of regulating big social media companies like TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, given their billions of users and various societal problems. But what about the smaller, unknown sites and apps that go viral among young people? Ysabel Gerrard, a lecturer in digital media and society at the University of Sheffield, says these apps often have just as many problems as their much bigger rivals, far less resources, and are gone before anyone even knows the extent of the issues. How should lawmakers be thinking about those services? 

“Regulating new anonymous apps is a tricky balancing act: Do they need looser regulations so they can grow? Or do they need stricter rules, because a lack of regulation might make their young users more vulnerable to harm? While kids use globally popular apps like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, they’re also drawn to apps no one has ever heard of, and one-size-fits-all policies that only imagine established platforms are never going to accommodate the unique challenges popular by surprise apps present,” Gerrard writes in an op-ed piece for Wired.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Is the Facebook oversight board’s Trump decision ‘disgraceful’ or ‘necessary’? The Internet weighs in. By Aaron Pressman

Everything you should know about the Facebook board that just ruled on Trump’s banishment By Danielle Abril

The Biden administration’s withdrawal of a Trump-era gig-worker rule casts a ‘dark cloud’ over Uber earnings By Anne Sraders

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to auction its first space tourist spot aboard a rocket By Aaron Pressman

What was Justin Zhu’s ouster about? By Lucinda Shen

This app fighting food waste around the world is gaining ground in the U.S. By Rachel King

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