with Aaron Schaffer

Facebook now has six months to decide whether former president Donald Trump should be allowed back on its social network. 

Facebook's Oversight Board upheld the company's decision to ban Trump, but it said Facebook has the ultimate responsibility to determine how long that ban should last. 

In its ruling, the Facebook-funded panel of experts determined “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.” 

The board called on the company to review the matter, and come up with a “proportionate response that is consistent with the rules” for other people using its platform. Facebook executive Nick Clegg said in a blog post it will consider the decision and determine a “clear and proportionate” response. 

The decision shows that the board does not want to act as a shield for the company on the most thorny content questions. 

“In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities,” the board wrote. “The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.”

Experts noted the irony of the board putting the onus back on Facebook, after the company spent extensive time and money setting it up. From Joan Donovan, the research director at the Shorenstein Center: 

The board also recommended changes to many of Facebook's existing policies. 

For years, the company has bent the rules to allow politicians to remain on the platform, creating a “newsworthiness exemption” and shielding their posts from fact-checking. But the board took issue with that distinction, saying it “is not always useful to draw a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users, recognizing that other users with large audiences can also contribute to serious risks of harm.”

In fact, the board warned that heads of state can have greater power to cause harm than regular people.

The board warned the company it should act quickly when influential users share posts that “pose a high probability of imminent harm.” It also asked Facebook to address the confusion about how these decisions are made. 

The board also recommended dedicating adequate resources to assessing the risks of influential accounts around the world, and it called on the company to undertake a comprehensive review of its role in pushing the narrative of electoral fraud. They also asked the company to be more transparent about its “newsworthiness exemption,” which the company uses to allow posts to remain on the platform even when they break the rules, if the company believes the public interest in seeing it outweighs the harm. 

Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld the ban on former president Donald Trump, a test case of social media companies’ power to moderate inflammatory speech. (Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)
 
Both parties are keeping the political heat on Facebook following the decision. 

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the problems with Facebook's business model persist, whether or not Trump has an account:

It also could intensify conservatives' calls to break up or otherwise penalize Facebook. 

"It's a sad day for America. It's a sad day for Facebook, 'cuz I can tell you, a number of members of Congress are now looking at, do they break up Facebook? Do they make sure that they don't have a monopoly?" Mark Meadows, the former Trump White House chief of staff, said on Fox News this morning. 

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Instagram has been used as a black market for migrant workers in the Persian Gulf.

Unlicensed agents have abused the social network to place women in jobs that often lack proper pay and working conditions, Katie McQue reports. Several women marketed as maids on Instagram report they were treated as captives and worked for far lower wages than they were promised. 

A review by The Washington Post found more than 200 accounts that appeared to play a role in marketing women as maids across the Persian Gulf. 

“Migrant workers who are recruited through more informal channels, including by unlicensed agents, are at higher risks of trafficking and other forms of exploitation,” said Rothna Begum, a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Instagram deleted the 200 accounts after The Post provided the company a list. 

“Human exploitation is horrific, and we don’t allow it on Instagram. We’ve disabled all the accounts reported to us,” said Stephanie Otway, a Facebook spokeswoman. But it’s unclear whether more accounts remain on the platform.

Hawley wants to make Section 230 immunity contingent on advertising practices.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) joins Washington Post Live (The Washington Post)

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told me in an interview at a Washington Post Live event the liability shield should not apply to companies that collect data on user behavior, sometimes selling that data or using it for advertising.

“I would say to my Democrat friends across the aisle, we ought to be able to agree on this, Hawley said, noting that he had spoken with Democratic senators about it. 

But Democratic lawmakers have distanced themselves from Hawley for his role in leading the Senate effort to contest Biden’s election victory. Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who wrote the liability shield, and other colleagues called for Hawley to resign in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

Private messaging app Signal and Facebook are publicly sparring over ad privacy issues. 

Signal says Facebook disabled its Instagram ad account, which would have highlighted the company’s ad targeting. The Instagram ads would have shown users of the app what criteria were used to target them, Jun Harada, Signal's head of growth and communication, wrote in a blog post.

“Facebook was not into that idea,” Harada wrote in the post, which also showed a screenshot showing that the advertising account had been disabled.

Facebook blasted the post in a statement, with spokesman Andy Stone calling it a “stunt” by Signal, which “never even tried to actually run these ads — and we didn’t shut down their ad account for trying to do so.” Signal fired back in a tweet, attaching an additional screenshot:

Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne then responded, writing he screenshots were from March, when the account was briefly disabled due to “an unrelated payments issue” and the ads themselves were never set to run. “The ad account has been available since early March, and the ads that don't violate our policies could have run since then,” he wrote.

It’s the second high-profile blog post by Signal in recent weeks. The company, which touts its privacy and encryption, last month said it had found vulnerabilities in Cellebrite’s tools to extract data from iPhones. Those tools are used by U.S. law enforcement

Hill happenings

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Rant and rave

In a blog post, Basecamp CEO Jason Fried apologized for last week’s “policy changes”  — its ban on society- and politics-related discussions on company platforms — at the company that “felt simple, reasonable, and principled,” but “blew things up culturally in ways we never anticipated.” Amazon Web Services’s Abby Fuller:

TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm:

Netflix senior software engineer Laurie Barth and Jill Wohlner, the founder and CEO of underpin:

Daybook

  • European officials discuss Europe’s proposed artificial intelligence legislation at an Information Technology & Innovation Foundation event today at 10 a.m.
  • Four members of Facebook’s Oversight Board discuss the fate of former president Donald Trump’s Facebook account at an Aspen Institute event on Thursday at 11 a.m. At the same time, two members of the board will speak at a Stanford Cyber Policy Center event.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing on disparities in access to broadband on Thursday at 11:30 a.m.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Gary Gensler testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on GameStop and social media-related market volatility on Thursday at noon. 
  • IBM chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna speaks at a Washington Post Live event on Thursday at 1 p.m.
  • The House Financial Services Committee’s artificial intelligence task force holds a hearing on how AI can address systemic racism on Friday at noon.

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