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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Democrats up pressure on Facebook to keep Trump ban in place

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Below: Washington reels from FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s arrest, and Apple plans a major change to its app store control. First:

Democrats pressure Facebook to keep Trump ban in place

Democratic lawmakers are calling on Facebook’s parent company to extend its suspension of former president Donald Trump, ratcheting up pressure on the tech giant ahead of an expected decision on the future of his accounts next month. 

The social network initially suspended Trump indefinitely, citing “risks” posed by his accounts after his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but Facebook later said it would keep the ban in place for two years and then “assess whether the risk to public safety has receded.” Trump’s suspension from Facebook and Instagram, if not extended, is set to expire Jan. 7. 

In a letter to Meta on Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers argued that the risk posed by Trump’s accounts “certainly has not diminished since the former president’s removal” and urged the tech giant to “continue the suspension … beyond January.”

“For Meta to credibly maintain a legitimate election integrity policy, it is essential that your company maintain its platform ban on former president Trump,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter first reported by The Technology 202. The letter was led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and co-signed by Reps. André Carson (D-Ind.) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.).

The letter asks the company to spell out what “criteria” it will use to evaluate whether to reinstate Trump and if it will “request any assurances from the candidate” in its decision. 

Facebook, which has since renamed its parent company Meta, placed its two-year ban on Trump after its oversight board upheld but rebuked its initial suspension, finding that while a “serious risk of violence” justified the restriction, the company erred in issuing an indefinite ban.

Nick Clegg, the company’s head of global affairs, said last June that it will “evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest,” in deciding Trump’s fate on the platforms beyond Jan. 7.

“If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded,” Clegg wrote. 

Meta referred a request for comment to Clegg’s remarks. A Trump spokesperson did not return a request for comment. 

The campaign to keep Trump off Facebook comes as Republicans have cheered new Twitter owner Elon Musk for reinstating the former president's account on his once-signature platform, even though he has yet to post to it again.

After Trump was booted off a series of major platforms including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, he launched his own social network — Truth Social — aimed at competing with the Silicon Valley heavyweights, but the platform has struggled to get off the ground

In their letter this week, the Democratic lawmakers cited concern that “Trump has continued to post harmful election content on Truth Social that would likely violate Facebook’s policies” and “would bring similar conspiratorial rhetoric back to Facebook, if given the chance.”

Trump has posted dozens of times on his platform about insidious QAnon conspiracy theories, which Meta has banned, and has continued to falsely claim that the 2020 election was rigged, claims that major platforms took steps to crack down against. 

The push to extend Trump’s suspension is already drawing blowback from Republicans, some of whom have accused Democrats of attempting to impose “government-by-proxy censorship” by pressuring tech companies on their content decisions. 

Rep. Diana Harshbarger (R-Tenn.) — a Trump ally who voted against certifying the 2020 election — panned Schiff over the letter ahead of its public release, tweeting last week that the “left is desperate for power and is willing to deploy [Chinese Communist Party]-style censorship tactics to silence any opposition.”

Tech companies for years have been stuck in the middle of a tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans over its content calls, with Democrats criticizing platforms for doing too little to stamp out hate speech and disinformation, and Republicans accusing them of stifling free expression. The dispute reached a fever pitch after the Jan. 6 insurrection, when many social networks booted Trump.

Trump continues to be suspended indefinitely from other platforms including YouTube, which has said little publicly about how it’s evaluating whether to reinstate his account. 

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Washington seeks answers — and distance — after Bankman-Fried’s arrest

Lawmakers in Washington began to sort through the political wreckage in the wake of the sudden arrest of disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, with many looking to distance themselves from a top benefactor in the 2022 election, Tony Romm and Isaac Stanley-Becker report. Lawmakers in both parties blasted Bankman-Fried and expressed fear about further abuses in the largely unregulated cryptocurrency industry.

“My fear is that we will view Sam Bankman-Fried as just one big snake in a crypto Garden of Eden,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said at a House Financial Services Committee hearing, which Bankman-Fried was scheduled to appear at. “The fact is, crypto is a garden of snakes.”

A Bahamas judge denied bail to Bankman-Fried, who is fighting extradition to the United States, on Tuesday. Prosecutors also announced their case against Bankman-Fried. It was “one of the biggest financial frauds in American history,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

Apple working on allowing alternative app stores

A move to give users such an ability would be a reversal from Apple’s previous rhetoric about opening up its software ecosystem, Bloomberg News’s Mark Gurman reports. It comes in the wake of new European rules requiring major tech companies to make their platforms interoperable with those of their competitors. The rules also block the companies from giving their products preferential treatment and forcing developers to use their payment systems.

Apple has long argued that allowing users to install apps from outside its own App Store could open up their devices to hacks. “To help protect against unsafe apps, Apple is discussing the idea of mandating certain security requirements even if software is distributed outside its store. Such apps also may need to be verified by Apple — a process that could carry a fee,” Gurman writes. 

The changes could be added to Apple software next year, Gurman reports. But Apple, which charges fees to app developers who use its App Store, hasn’t yet decided whether to comply with European rules letting app developers introduce alternative payment systems in their apps, Gurman reports.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment to Bloomberg News. Here’s more from Gurman:

QAnon movement reinvigorated by Musk

Twitter owner Elon Musk’s rhetoric and amplification of memes and grievances has injected fresh energy into QAnon, a jumbled set of conspiracy theories, Drew Harwell reports. QAnon believers have argued that former president Donald Trump waged a secret holy war against a global Satanist cabal that would culminate in the executions of top Democrats and “deep state” elites.

Musk hasn’t explicitly supported QAnon, and he didn’t respond to requests for comment. Some of his close allies say they don’t think Musk actually believes some of what he says online. Musk used the claims to win attention, according to a person in Musk’s inner circle who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Musk’s views. “He wants to muck it up,” the person said.

QAnon adherents see Musk’s ambiguity and plausible deniability as a way to move their ideology to the mainstream. “At this rate, Elon is on pace to start posting Q drops to millions of normies and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop him,” a QAnon-boosting Truth Social account with 165,000 followers wrote Monday.

Inside the industry

Activists file lawsuit against Meta over murdered Ethiopian professor (Naomi Nix)

Utah bans TikTok from public devices, joining other Republican states (Ben Brasch)

Defamation reforms: Australian media may not be liable for Facebook comments in future (The Guardian)

Competition watch

Google asks court to toss out federal antitrust lawsuit (Reuters)

Agency scanner

Microsoft says it offered FTC consent decree on Call of Duty (Bloomberg News)


Google execs warn company's reputation could suffer if it moves too fast on AI-chat technology (CNBC)


  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra testifies before the House Financial Services Committee today at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Banking Committee hosts a hearing on FTX today at 10 a.m.
  • The Brookings Institution holds an event on securing 5G technology on Thursday at 10 a.m.
  • Chopra testifies before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday at 10 a.m.
  • The California Privacy Protection Agency Board hosts a public meeting on Friday at noon.

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