The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Marjorie Taylor Greene is a wart on the body politic. Facebook is a melanoma.

Twitter recently banned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is a wart on the body politic. Facebook is a melanoma.

The Georgia Republican’s latest deadly lie — this time disinformation about “extremely high amounts of covid vaccine deaths” to discourage people from receiving the lifesaving protection — earned her a permanent ban from Twitter. And Facebook? The social media behemoth dithered for a day and then decided it would ban Greene for … 24 hours.

It was the tech equivalent of Dr. Evil holding the world ransom with a nuclear warhead for … one million dollars in “Austin Powers.” It allowed Greene (and Donald Trump and “my Kevin” McCarthy) to cry about censorship, yet it did nothing to stop the lies.

Facebook reasoned that “removing her account for this violation is beyond the scope of our policies” — as if Facebook is utterly powerless to do anything to alter its own ridiculous policies.

If the testimony and documents provided last year by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen weren’t enough to show that Facebook’s “policies” are destroying democracy, encouraging racist violence and ruining the mental health of a generation, a new investigation by a team from The Post and ProPublica leaves no doubt about Facebook’s malignant impact and its dishonest corporate behavior:

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"Facebook executives have played down the company’s role in the Jan. 6 attack and have resisted calls, including from its own Oversight Board, for a comprehensive internal investigation. The company also has yet to turn over all the information requested by the congressional committee studying the Jan. 6 attack, though it says it is negotiating with the committee.

“But the ProPublica-Post investigation, which analyzed millions of posts between Election Day and Jan. 6 and drew on internal company documents and interviews with former employees, provides the clearest evidence yet that Facebook played a critical role in the spread of false narratives that fomented the violence of Jan. 6.”

Specifically, there were more than 650,000 Facebook posts attacking the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s victory — more than 10,000 a day — between Election Day and the Jan. 6 coup attempt. Facebook’s attempts to temper the content “were ineffective and started too late.”

This failure to police itself by Facebook, and social media generally, is well-established pattern. “Their years of dawdling and denying responsibility allowed hate to take root,” Anti-Defamation League chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt writes in a book out this week, “It Could Happen Here,” about the dangerous spread of white supremacy. “Their algorithms enabled this intolerance to expand and spread across the internet, entrancing users who often didn’t even realize what they were encountering and feeding this content to those who affirmed their interest. And even now the industry’s collective response remains spotty and insufficient.”

Greenblatt recalled a July 2020 Zoom call with Mark Zuckerberg in which Zuckerberg bragged that Facebook’s technology removed 88 percent of hate speech before users saw it. “I was dumbstruck by his self-satisfaction,” Greenblatt writes, likening it to Starbucks boasting that 88 percent of its drinks don’t contain poison.

The ADL chief calls for a “drastic overhaul” of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” It was meant to promote the free flow of ideas online; in practice, it has promoted “the free flow of filth.”

It’s long past time to cut off that flow. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and others have introduced the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act, which would remove Section 230 protections for a social media company that recommended and promoted extremism, disinformation or other content that “materially contributed to a physical or severe emotional injury.”

Similarly, the Safe Tech Act, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Mark Warner (Va.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), would remove Section 230 protection for social media companies that fail to police cyberstalking, harassment and violations of civil rights by its users. The Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act by Democratic Reps. Tom Malinowski (N.J.) and Anna /G./ Eshoo (Calif.) would remove Section 230 protections for international terrorism and civil rights violations.

Republicans haven’t signed on to those bills, but there is bipartisan recognition of the problem. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has drafted a bill taking aim at Section 230 protections for the “manipulative use of algorithms” to promote political views. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have legislation that would strip Section 230 protection from tech companies in cases of child sexual exploitation.

As this new year dawns, Democrats in Congress are rightly focusing on voting rights and other attempts to protect democracy. Taking long-delayed action to restrict Section 230 should be an important part of that, for Facebook and its ilk have proved themselves entirely too willing to serve as the medium of choice for those who would supplant self-government with lies and violence.