In a decision chewed over online as much as the latest viral celebrity divorce, the board declined to reverse Trump’s suspension but gave the company six months to ban him forever or reinstate him, and deliver a clear justification in either case.
“It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored,” the board scolded in a lengthy, headline-grabbing statement.
“In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities. The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.”
But the board also warned that the social media Gargantua is currently unprepared — or unwilling — to deal with leaders not named “Trump” looking to use its platforms to spread political mischief online and mayhem in the real world.
Whether you think Trump has a Facebook problem or Facebook has a Trump problem, the board seemed to say, the company has a serious, under-addressed dilemma with toxic “influential users” who risk causing “imminent harm.”
In its findings, the oversight body noted Facebook had “requested recommendations about suspensions when the user is a political leader” — effectively asking it to make policy where Facebook chose not to.
“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,” the board retorted.
Still, it noted, “heads of state and other high officials of government can have a greater power to cause harm than other people.”
While Facebook has often exempted political leaders from restrictions on hate speech on grounds their comments are newsworthy, “considerations of newsworthiness should not take priority when urgent action is needed to prevent significant harm,” the board said.
Moreover, the board advised, “if a head of state or high government official has repeatedly posted messages that pose a risk of harm under international human rights norms, Facebook should suspend the account for a period sufficient to protect against imminent harm.
“Suspension periods should be long enough to deter misconduct and may, in appropriate cases, include account or page deletion,” it continued.
The board’s warning gives enormous added weight to its six-month clock — assuming Facebook, which created the board so it would not have to make decisions like these, doesn’t find another escape hatch.
One question at the heart of the board’s statement is whether a company with more than 2.7 billion monthly active users worldwide as of 2020 has any role, or responsibility, when it comes to policing online speech.
In the immediate aftermath of the board decision, former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows predicted on Fox News that Congress would retaliate by moving to break up Facebook.
“We need to have some standards and literally what we’re seeing is they’re not able to police themselves,” Meadows said.
In May 2020, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told Fox News: “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.”
(Note: No one is saying Facebook must police “everything” said by anyone online, and Facebook has terms of service governing use of its platforms.)
In April 2018, however, my colleagues Craig Timberg and Tony Romm chronicled a very different tone from Zuckerberg, who told Congress his company was “too slow” to police Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” Zuckerberg plans to tell lawmakers. “That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry.”
In January, when Facebook suspended Trump, a company executive gave NBC News’s Dylan Byers the arresting observation: “We don't have a policy for what to do when a sitting president starts a coup.”
To hear Facebook’s oversight board tell it, maybe it needs one.
What’s happening now
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed broad legislation this morning that imposes new rules on voting an penalties for those who do not follow them.
- DeSantis hailed “the measures as necessary to shore up public faith in elections, even as critics accused him of trying to make it harder to vote, particularly for people of color,” Amy Gardner and Lori Rozsa report.
- “Me signing this bill says, ‘Florida, your vote counts,’ ” DeSantis said in a live interview on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends.” “Your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy,” he added.
- “The Florida measure adds hurdles to voting by mail, restricts the use of drop boxes and prohibits any actions that could influence those standing in line to vote, which voting rights advocates said is likely to discourage nonpartisan groups from offering food or water to voters as they wait in the hot Florida sun.”
- “Critics said the new law curtails poll access in a variety of ways that will intimidate, confuse and otherwise make it harder for people to vote by mail, which is popular in Florida. In November, more than 4.8 million Floridians — more than 40 percent of the fall electorate — cast mail ballots.”
- The governor scheduled the bill-signing at the Airport Hilton in West Palm Beach, near Trump’s home at his Mar-a-Lago Club. The event was dubbed a rally “for the best governor in the USA.” Reporters for The Post and other news outlets weren’t allowed to witness the signing — it was broadcast exclusively on Fox News.
Weekly jobless claims hit a fresh pandemic-era low for the fourth consecutive week, with 498,000 Americans filing for initial unemployment benefits in the week that ended May 1, the Labor Department said this morning. “That’s down 92,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised level, a bigger drop than economists expected and the lowest figure since March 2020. The streak of declines, which started with a surprise drop in mid-April, suggests that the recovery is gaining traction, pulling scores of people back into the folds of the labor market as business restrictions continue to loosen and vaccination numbers climb,” Taylor Telford reports.
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Observers report ballots and laptop computers have been left unattended in Arizona recount, according to secretary of state,” by Rosalind Helderman: “Ballots have been left unattended on counting tables. Laptop computers sit abandoned, at times — open, unlocked and unmonitored. Procedures are constantly shifting, with untrained workers using different rules to count ballots. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) on Wednesday sent a letter outlining a string of problems that she said observers from her office have witnessed at a Republican-led recount of the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona’s largest county. In the six-page letter, Hobbs wrote that elections are ‘governed by a complex framework of laws and procedures designed to ensure accuracy, security, and transparency’ but that the procedures governing the ongoing recount in Phoenix ‘ensure none of those things.’”
… and beyond
- “Biden leans into plans to tax the rich,” by the New York Times’s Jim Tankersley and Annie Karni: “Biden delivered a clear and punchy message to America’s highest earners on Wednesday: I’m going to raise your taxes, but your vacation homes are safe. In an exchange with reporters at the White House, Mr. Biden defended with gusto his plans to increase taxes on high earners and the wealthy. He railed against high-earning chief executives and promised that his plans were ‘about making the average multimillionaire pay just a fair share.’ ‘We’re not going to deprive any of these executives of their second or third home, travel privately by jet,’ Mr. Biden said after brief remarks on an economic aid program he signed into law this year. ‘It’s not going to affect their standard of living at all. Not a little tiny bit. But I can affect the standard of living that people I grew up with.'"
- “How Georgia’s voting law works,” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Niesse: “The most well-known parts of the law limit drop boxes, require different forms of ID for absentee voting and ban handing food and drinks to voters waiting in line. Additional provisions give greater control over elections to Georgia’s GOP majority after Republican Donald Trump lost the state to Democrat Joe Biden in November’s presidential election. Other sections require a second Saturday of early voting in general elections, shorten early voting before runoffs and mandate quicker vote-counting.”
More on the voting wars
Congressional Democrats tweaked their marquee voting bill ahead of a Senate committee vote next week.
- “The changes to the For the People Act come after the bill passed the House on a largely party-line vote in March and ahead of a critical vote Tuesday in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee that could advance the legislation to the floor,” Mike DeBonis reports. “The legislation is meant to curtail state-level pushes to restrict voter access, such as the nationally controversial effort in Georgia.”
- “The For the People Act, however, presently has no viable route to enactment in the 50-50 Senate. The tweaks made Tuesday aren’t likely to change that. Republicans are uniformly opposed to the bill, meaning it will be unable to clear a Senate filibuster, which can be defeated only with a 60-vote supermajority. While many activists and some senators are eager to change the chamber’s rules to allow the bill to pass with a simple majority, multiple Democratic senators have expressed misgivings about doing so.”
- It’s still not even clear that all Senate Democrats will support the bill. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has said multiple times that he’s wary of making changes to the election system on a partisan basis. An aide to Manchin told DeBonis that the senator is reviewing the changes “but still believes any election reforms must be done in a bipartisan way.”
- “What has changed are some of the requirements and timelines related to the bill’s mandates for early voting, voting by mail, automatic voter registration and voting system standards. In several cases, states or local jurisdictions will be given more time or more leeway to follow through on the bill’s mandates.”
Vice President Harris is leading a roundtable on voting rights this morning.
- Harris will hold the discussion at the White House campus as the administration continues to push back against states, including Georgia and Florida, that are placing new restrictions on voting, John Wagner reports.
The Biden agenda
Biden is heading to Louisiana today in a rare trip to a red state to pitch his jobs and infrastructure plan.
- The president will stop in Lake Charles to highlight a nearly 70-year-old bridge and in New Orleans to put a spotlight on the city’s antiquated city water system, Wagner reports. “We are hoping to get funding, and the fact is the system is aged,” New Orleans City Council member Jay Banks said. “It is no longer even repairable. If something breaks, you have to make the part.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested that Biden has not traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border because there is relatively limited public interest in the situation there.
- “Psaki’s comments came in a wide-ranging interview on ‘The Axe Files’ podcast,” John Wagner and Scott Clement report. “We’re often asked, ‘Why doesn’t he go to the border?’ Important issue. We’re focused on it,” Psaki said. “What percentage of the public is focused on the border? A much smaller percentage than who’s focused on the pandemic and the economy. So that may be maddening, but, you know, that’s what we try to do.”
- “A Pew survey in April showed that American concern about illegal immigration had in fact jumped, with a similar percentage saying it was a ‘very big problem’ as said the same of the coronavirus pandemic. Americans are also more critical of Biden on immigration than on many other issues, with 37 percent approving of his handling of the migrants situation at the U.S.-Mexico border in an April Washington Post-ABC poll.”
- Psaki also said her tenure as press secretary could end by this time next year.
A new “America the Beautiful” report offers few specifics on how to protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
- “Months after Biden set a goal of conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030, the administration on Thursday laid out broad principles — but few details — for achieving that vision,” Sarah Kaplan and Juliet Eilperin report. “The new 22-page document from the Commerce, Interior and Agriculture Departments highlights one of the Biden administration’s central challenges: having committed to bold environmental goals in their early days in power, officials now face the more uncertain and contentious task of figuring out how to follow through on those ambitions.”
- “But it doesn’t identify specific places for enhanced protection, define what level of conservation would be required for an area to count toward the administration’s 30 percent goal or indicate how much federal funding would be needed to make Biden’s vision a reality.”
More than half of K-8 schools have reopened, fulfilling one of Biden’s key campaign pledges.
- “About 54 percent of schools that serve the nation’s kindergarten through eighth grades have reopened, according to an Education Department survey, fulfilling a promise that Biden made to reopen more than half of schools within 100 days,” Moriah Balingit reports.
- “The results signal progress toward normalcy for children whose educations have been repeatedly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, prompting fears about lasting trauma and learning loss. But troublesome racial disparities remained. Nearly half of White students have returned to classrooms, according to the survey, while only about a third of Black and Hispanic students have chosen to head back to classrooms. Only 15 percent of Asian students are back in school buildings full-time.”
Quote of the day
“Russia has pulled back some forces, but significant forces remain on Ukraine’s border,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky this morning. “And so Russia has the capacity on fairly short notice to take aggressive actions if it so chooses.” Blinken is the first senior Biden official to visit Kyiv since Trump left office, per the Times.
The CDC says the pandemic could be under control this summer in the U.S. if people get vaccinated and are careful.
- “CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday the modeling results give Americans a road map out of the pandemic — so long as they continue to get vaccinated and maintain certain mitigation strategies until a ‘critical mass of people’ get the shots,” Joel Achenbach and Lena Sun report. “The results remind us that we have the path out of this, and models, once projecting really grim news, now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring,” she said.
- “The CDC report is not a prediction or forecast. Rather, it is a set of four scenarios based on modeling of the pandemic, using different assumptions about vaccination rates, vaccine efficacy and precautions against transmission. ... Under the most optimistic scenario, deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, could drop into the low 100s per week in August and into the ‘tens’ per week in September… Currently, more than 4,000 people a week are dying of the disease.”
- “The long-term picture remains cloudy because of all the unknowns about this virus, which continues to circulate freely around the planet and is driving catastrophic outbreaks in Brazil, Colombia, India and other countries.”
New studies suggest that vaccines can protect against some coronavirus variants and severe cases.
- “Two published studies found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was extraordinarily effective against severe disease caused by two variants, including the dominant one in the United States. And the results of an early-stage trial of the Moderna vaccine — though not published or vetted by scientists — suggested that a single dose given as a booster was effective against variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil, the company said,” the Times reports.
Republicans keep promoting the pandemic relief aid they voted against.
- “Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., said it pained her to vote against the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. But in the weeks that followed, the first-term Republican issued a news release celebrating more than $3.7 million from the package that went to community health centers in her district as one of her ‘achievements,’” the AP’s Steve Peoples reports. “Malliotakis is far from alone.”
- “Since the early spring votes, Republicans from New York and Indiana to Texas and Washington state have promoted elements of the legislation they fought to defeat. ... GOP lawmakers have been especially bullish about promoting the rescue plan’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which devoted $28.6 billion to the struggling industry. Applications for the program opened this week.”
A new poll shows parents are reluctant to get their children vaccinated against the virus.
- “The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be authorized for children ages 12 through 15 within days. Among parents who were surveyed [by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor] three in 10 said they would get their children vaccinated right away, and 26 percent said they wanted to wait to see how the vaccine was working. Those figures largely mirrored the eagerness with which those parents themselves sought to get vaccinated,” the Times reports.
Canadians are flying here to get their shots.
- “While almost a third of Americans have been fully vaccinated, Canada has inoculated only 3% of its almost 38 million people, though more than 34% have received a first dose,” Reuters reports. “The U.S. vaccination campaign has reached a tipping point, with supply outstripping demand due to a combination of factors including skepticism about the vaccines. ... That is encouraging Canadians to cross the border and tap into this oversupply without paying any fee.”
Vaccinations in the U.S., visualized
All adults in the United States are now eligible for a coronavirus vaccine. Vaccinations climbed to an average of more than 3.3 million shots per day in mid-April before it began declining. Lack of demand may be contributing to the vaccine slowdown as adults who most want the shot have received it, so the campaign must now reach out to more hesitant people.
Hot on the left
Speaking to Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Caitlyn Jenner said she’s running for California governor because she’s frustrated with homeless people. “The guy right across, he was packing up his hangar,” the Republican candidate recounted in the interview last night. “And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless,'" Teo Armus reports. “This state has done so much for me over the years. But I’ve watched it crumble right before my eyes,” she told Hannity.
Hot on the right
GOP Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) said Republican lawmakers have the votes needed to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from GOP House leadership. In an interview with Fox News, Jordan said that Cheney “definitely needs to go.” “You can’t have a Republican conference chair reciting Democrat talking points,” Jordan said. “The move to kick Cheney out of leadership will most likely officially occur next week, when the House returns from a recess,” our colleagues Marianna Sotomayor, Felicia Sonmez, and Jacqueline Alemany report.
Twitter said that it erroneously suspended the account of Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R-N.Y.) communications director. Both Stefanik and Karoline Leavitt, the communications director, accused the social network of trying to silence the staffer because of her conservative views, John Wagner reports. The episode comes as Stefanik is angling to replace Cheney as the House Republican Conference chairwoman. Leavitt previously worked in the Trump White House press shop.
Today in Washington
Biden will arrive in Lake Charles, La., today at 12:15 p.m. and deliver remarks there at 1:25 p.m. He later will head to New Orleans, where he will tour a water plant at 4:20 p.m.
Seth Meyers said Biden has checkmated Republicans with a strategy so “shocking” they never thought of it (“Doing things that people like”):