with Aaron Schaffer

The Oversight Board was conceived as Facebook’s answer to calls around the world for greater regulation of social media companies. 

But its punt on former president Donald Trump’s online fate has only intensified the cries for more government oversight of the tech giant. 

Lawmakers from both parties called for more checks on Facebook after the board announced yesterday morning that it upheld the company’s suspension of Trump, but also bounced the final call back to the company. The board recommended Facebook decide within six months whether to permanently ban or restore Trump’s account.

Conservatives blasted the decision as a sign Facebook wielded monopoly power and called for antitrust action or other regulation of the company. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said if Republicans regain a majority in Congress, they’ll move to rein in tech companies’ power over speech. 

“Facebook is more interested in acting like a Democrat Super PAC than a platform for free speech and open debate,” the California Republican tweeted. “If they can ban President Trump, all conservative voices could be next.”

On the other side of the aisle, lawmakers called for Facebook to make the ban permanent. They zeroed in how the company's algorithms continue to amplify harmful content, and they criticized the company’s poor track record of addressing disinformation. 

“He should be banned for good, but that won’t solve the larger problem,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted. “We still need to rein in disinformation and protect our democracy.”

The backlash from both parties underscores how this is basically a worst-case scenario for Facebook. 

The Oversight Board’s decision highlighted how arbitrarily Facebook enforces its policies. In forcing the company to make the final call, it’s refusing to shield it from responsibility and making the company's executives reckon with the individual power they wield over online speech. 

Facebook critics said the decision highlights the urgent need to address the damage Facebook has wrought on democracy. 

“This is an opportunity to turn the trajectory,” said Shoshana Zuboff, a member of a group of Facebook critics self-dubbed “The Real Facebook Oversight Board” and author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.” "Facebook already failed to figure this out in a way that is consistent with the common good. The oversight board is not an oversight board, it’s a PR device. They too have failed to contribute anything of even modest value. We’re back to square one, facing the void. It’s time for us to really double down on that and to make this the time that we finally address the void.”

The punt has put a spotlight on the broad powers wielded by Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook’s shares are set up in such a way that Zuckerberg has the majority voting power, and the final say on most major issues. Other senior executives, such as Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg deliberate over major content moderation questions, but the final decision remains with Zuckerberg.

“To have one unaccountable billionaire having this much power over our democracy is dangerous, said Rashad Robinson, CEO of the digital civil rights group Color of Change and a longtime Facebook critic. This is why government action is so incredibly important.”

So far there has been very little response from Facebook or its executives to the board decision, beyond a short blog post published immediately after the ruling. 

Some outliers in Washington said they felt the board made the right call. 

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in an interview yesterday he was “impressed” with the decision. 

“We can’t set a precedent for indefinite bans,” Khanna tweeted. “The Facebook Oversight Board made the right call.”

Khanna said other large companies should have independent boards to consider content moderation issues, and he believes Congress should take other actions to require greater transparency of the companies. 

Rant and rave

Kara Swisher, a contributing opinion writer at the New York Times:

Former T-Mobile CEO John Legere reflected on a new section of Trump's current website:

Our top tabs

The Biden administration blocked a rule that made it harder for gig workers to get a minimum wage and protections.

The “Independent Contractor” rule, which was finalized as the Trump administration was preparing to leave the White House, was immediately opposed by the Biden administration, Eli Rosenberg reports

“By withdrawing the Independent Contractor Rule, we will help preserve essential worker rights and stop the erosion of worker protections that would have occurred had the rule gone into effect,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement. 

The rule was seen as a boon for gig work companies. In March, a coalition of companies including Uber and Lyft mounted a legal challenge to the Biden administration’s plans to delay the rule. 

Apple’s AirTags work “frighteningly well” and could be used by stalkers, The Post’s tech columnist says.

Apple's new tracking device issues alerts if there's potential misuse. Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler explains how to know if AirTags are shadowing you. (Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

Despite built-in safeguards to prevent unwanted tracking, the small devices can be used to stalk or track people who have not consented, Geoffrey Fowler writes. The devices play a chirping noise after three days of being separated from a device they're paired with, but the noises were relatively quiet, easily muffled and can be gamed by abusive partners, Geoffrey writes.

“These are an industry-first, strong set of proactive deterrents,” Kaiann Drance, Apple vice president of iPhone marketing, said in an interview. “It’s a smart and tunable system, and we can continue improving the logic and timing of, so that we can improve the set of deterrents.”

The alerts, which can be easily disabled, are not available to Android users. “I’m really wary of security problems that have to be fixed by buying an iPhone,” said Eva Galperin, the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

A federal appeals court opened the door to a lawsuit over a Snapchat filter’s role in a fatal crash.

A three-judge panel found that the Section 230 liability shield doesn’t apply because the design of the app itself was at issue, not content other people posted on Snap’s platform, Hannah Denham writes. The plaintiffs in the case say that the “negligent design” of the app contributed to their children’s deaths. 

The filter is no longer available for driving. A Snap spokeswoman declined to comment.

Jeff Kosseff, an assistant professor of cybersecurity law at the U.S. Naval Academy, noted the significance of the opinion, which was agreed upon by the judges. 

“The 9th Circuit is the most important court for Section 230 cases, other than the Supreme Court,” he said. “I think that they both agreed on this is worth noting.”

Inside the industry

  • IBM has announced the world’s first two-nanometer chip, which it says will enable more efficient and powerful performance. The company's CEO, Arvind Krishna, is also calling for the Biden administration to double down to advance a “Science Forward agenda,” including by passing the Endless Frontier Act, fully implementing the National Semiconductor Technology Center program and convening quantum computing leaders and giving researchers access to quantum computing systems at National Laboratories. Krishna also called for a White House council to create a working group to explore the creation of a National Strategic Computing Reserve.

Workforce report

Trending

Bookmark this

Mentions

  • Austin King, an attorney-adviser to acting Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, has been named the FTC's Associate general counsel for rulemaking.
  • TikTok joined the Technology Coalition, which aims to cut off online child sexual exploitation.

Daybook

  • Four members of Facebook’s Oversight Board discuss the fate of former president Donald Trump’s Facebook account at an Aspen Institute event today 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 today 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 today at noon. 
  • IBM chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna speaks at a Washington Post Live event today 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.

Before you log off