Legislators fought against the ruling by the Facebook supervisory authority on Wednesday to uphold the social network’s ban on former President Donald J. Trump, at least for the time being.
The dissatisfaction was sparked by the fact that the supervisory body, a quasi-court that upheld some of Facebook’s substantive decisions, did not make a black and white decision on the case. Mr Trump was banned from the social network in January after his comments online and elsewhere triggered the storm on the Capitol.
While the board of directors said on Wednesday that Facebook was entitled at the time to suspend Mr Trump over the risk of further violence, it also said the company needed to reconsider its measures. The board said Facebook’s move was “a vague, standard-less penalty” with no defined boundaries that would need to be re-examined in order to reach a final decision on Mr. Trump’s account within six months.
That angered both Republicans and Democrats. Republican lawmakers have cited Trump’s overthrow by Facebook, Twitter and others as evidence of an alleged anti-conservative campaign by tech companies, calling the rulings a dangerous precedent for censoring political figures.
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, tweeted that the board’s decision on Wednesday was “shameful” and warned that it could have dangerous ripple effects.
“What can stop a liberal celebrating Trump’s social media ban from silencing you when the big tech oligarchs can muzzle the former president?” Mr Cruz said in his tweet.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican from Tennessee, said in a statement that the move showed that “it is clear that Mark Zuckerberg sees himself as the arbiter of freedom of speech.” Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee tweeted the decision was “pathetic,” and Jim Jordan of Ohio, the senior member, tweeted on Facebook, “Break it.”
Democrats, also dissatisfied with the dire decision, targeted how Facebook could be used to spread lies. Frank Pallone, chairman of the House’s Energy and Trade Committee, tweeted, “Donald Trump has played a huge role in spreading disinformation on Facebook, but whether he’s on the platform or not, Facebook and other social media platforms do too The same business model will find ways to highlight divisive content in order to generate ad revenue. “
Republican Ken Buck, Colorado Republican and senior member of the House of Representatives Antitrust Subcommittee, accused the board of directors of political bias.
“Facebook made an arbitrary decision based on its political preferences, and the governing body organized and funded by Facebook reaffirmed its decision,” he said.
But scholars who support free speech welcomed the decision. They warned that if social media companies become more active in determining what stays online and what doesn’t, they can potentially create a slippery slope where tech giants have too much influence over digital language.
“The Facebook Oversight Board has said what many critics have noted – the ban on former President Trump was justified, but worrying in its openness and lack of process,” said Gautam Hans, a law professor at Vanderbilt University. “To the extent that the decision draws attention to how ad hoc, manipulable and arbitrary Facebook-owned content policies are enforced, I applaud it.”
Mike Isaac contributed to the coverage.