Feb 11, 2021 - Technology

Republicans raise bias claims to board reviewing Trump's Facebook ban

A photo of former President Donald Trump

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Republicans on the House Judiciary committee are seeking to draw the Facebook Oversight Board's attention to allegations of anti-conservative bias by the social network, per a letter to the board shared with Axios.

Between the lines: The board is taking comments on whether it should uphold Facebook's decision to ban former President Trump. With their letter, GOP lawmakers are avoiding commenting on the merits of the ban, instead pivoting to bias claims that are popular with their conservative base.

What they're saying: Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), the top Republican on Judiciary's antitrust panel, writes in the letter that Republicans believe Facebook's "de-platforming standards are not applied in a fair and neutral manner."

  • "Instances where conservatives viewpoints have been censored, blocked, diminished harm the free exchange of ideas and irreparably damage conservative Americans' faith in the fairness of purportedly neutral actors like Facebook," Buck writes in the letter, also signed by nine other Republican lawmakers including Reps. Darrell Issa, Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz.

Context: Facebook established the Oversight Board as an independent body tasked with reviewing contentious moderation decisions. The board's rulings on specific bans and content takedowns are binding, although Facebook is free to ignore more general policy recommendations the board makes.

Evidence that social media has systemically mistreated conservatives is spotty, but it's been a popular rallying cry for Republicans.

  • The lawmakers cite Facebook limiting the sharing of the controversial New York Post story on Hunter Biden just before the election as well as a study on conservative bias that Facebook enlisted former Sen. Jon Kyl to run.
  • Kyl uncovered a range of grievances from conservatives angry at Facebook but did not produce evidence of any actions the company had taken to treat conservatives unfairly.

Of note: The group didn't ask to board to make Facebook reinstate Trump's account — or indeed weigh in directly on Trump's ban at all.

  • The Senate trial for Trump's second impeachment is now underway, with Democratic lawmakers presenting chilling footage and evidence they maintain proves Trump helped incite the deadly Jan. 6 riot, including through social media posts.

Other groups are urging the Oversight Board not to let Trump back on Facebook.

  • Academics led by Rick Hasen of the U.C. Irvine School of Law, joined by former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos, wrote in a letter to the Oversight Board that deplatforming politicians should be a last resort, but that Trump's removal and continued ban are justified.

Another view: The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University urged the board to delay its decision on Trump's suspension until Facebook commissions an independent study on whether aspects baked into the design of the Facebook platform contributed to the Capitol riot.

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