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Facebook arbiters keep ban on Trump

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Then-President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Washington on Jan. 6 before his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Shortly after, he was barred from Facebook, a decision that remains in place at least for now.
(AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

SAN FRANCISCO — A Facebook-appointed panel of journalists, activists and lawyers Wednesday upheld the social network’s ban of former President Donald Trump, ending any immediate return by Trump to mainstream social media and renewing a debate about tech power over online speech.

Facebook’s Oversight Board, which acts as a quasi-court over the company’s content decisions, ruled that the social network was right to bar Trump after the insurrection in Washington in January, saying he “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.” The panel said that ongoing risk “justified” the move.

But the board also kicked the case back to Facebook and its top executives. It said an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate” because it was not a penalty defined in Facebook’s policies and that the company should apply a standard punishment, such as a time-bound suspension or a permanent ban. The board gave Facebook six months to make a final decision on Trump’s account status.

“They cannot invent new unwritten rules when it suits them,” board co-chairman and former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said in an interview.

“Our sole job is to hold this extremely powerful organization, Facebook, accountable,” Michael McConnell, co-chairman of the Oversight Board, said on a call with reporters. The ban on Trump “did not meet these standards,” he said.

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In a statement, Trump did not directly address the board’s ruling. But he slammed Facebook, Google and Twitter — some of which have been major fundraising platforms for him — and called them corrupt. “Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth,” he said.

The ruling opens a new chapter in the global debate over the power of social media giants, whose platforms have become the default political megaphone for many world leaders even as they have fomented misinformation. Regulatory action is also on the horizon, with lawmakers promising that by the end of the year, new legislation will hold companies accountable for how they have policed or have not policed disinformation during the pandemic and the 2020 presidential election.

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Facebook first suspended Trump for encouraging violence during the Capitol riot Jan. 6, before saying the next day that the ban was “indefinite.” Two weeks later, it referred the case to its 20-member oversight board, which is largely independent and funded by the social network.

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In the ruling, the board agreed that Trump’s comments on the day of the insurrection “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.” The board noted the president’s references to the mob members as “patriots” and “special,” and his instructions to them to “Remember this day forever.”

It took issue with Facebook’s “indefinite” suspension of Trump, saying it was “vague and uncertain.”

The board also recommended that Facebook publish a report explaining its own role in fomenting the Jan. 6 attack.

The board said if Facebook decides to restore Trump’s accounts, it must be able to promptly address further violations. Among other recommendations, it advised against drawing a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users because anyone with a big audience can potentially cause serious risks of harm.

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After the announcement, Facebook emphasized that Trump would remain off the social network for the time being, in accordance with the board’s order. The company also seemed noncommittal in its response.

“We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communication, said in a blog post Wednesday, after canceling all planned interviews. “In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended.”

LASHING OUT

Trump’s continued Facebook suspension gave Republicans, who have accused social media companies of suppressing conservative voices, new fuel against the platforms. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has testified before Congress several times about whether the social network has shown bias against conservative political views. He has denied it.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said the Facebook board’s decision was “extremely disappointing” and that it was “clear that Mark Zuckerberg views himself as the arbiter of free speech.” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Facebook, which faces antitrust scrutiny, should be broken up.

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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted: “Is there anything more Orwellian than Facebook’s ‘independent oversight board,’ stocked with left-wing academics, deciding issues of free speech?”

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Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows also lashed out at Facebook.

“It’s a sad day for America,” he said on Fox News. “It’s a sad day for Facebook because 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.”

Democrats were also unhappy. Wednesday’s ruling renewed calls from both parties for a greater regulatory role and to continue with efforts underway in the United States to limit the social media giant’s power. Some also called into question why the decision focused almost solely on one person, not on the powerful algorithms that spread hateful content virally.

“Policymakers ultimately must address the root of these issues, which includes pushing for oversight and effective moderation mechanisms to hold platforms accountable for a business model that spreads real-world harm,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said in a statement.

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Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tweeted, “Donald Trump has played a big role in helping Facebook spread disinformation, but whether he’s on the platform or not, Facebook and other social media platforms with the same business model will find ways to highlight divisive content to drive advertising revenues.”

SWAY OVER GOP

For Trump, Facebook was long a place to rally his digital base and support other Republicans. More than 32 million people followed him on Facebook, although that was far fewer than the more than 88 million followers he had on Twitter.

The decision adds difficulties to Trump rejoining mainstream social media, a key source of his clout that he used during his White House years to directly cajole his tens of millions of followers, exploit their grievances, set policy and criticize opponents. Twitter and YouTube had also cut off Trump in January after the insurrection at the Capitol building, saying the risk and potential for violence that he created were too great.

But while Trump’s Facebook account remains suspended, he may be able to return to the social network once the company reviews its action. Trump still holds sway over Republicans, with his claims of a stolen election continuing to reverberate.

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On Wednesday, House Republican leaders moved to expel Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., from her leadership post for criticizing Trump and his election lies.

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Trump’s case is the most prominent that the Facebook Oversight Board, which was conceived in 2018, has handled. The board, which is made up of 20 journalists, activists and former politicians, reviews and adjudicates the company’s most contested content moderation decisions. Zuckerberg has repeatedly referred to it as the “Facebook Supreme Court.”

The decision underlined the power of tech companies in determining who gets to say what online. While Zuckerberg has said he does not wish his company to be “the arbiter of truth” in social discourse, Facebook has become increasingly active about the kinds of content it allows.

To prevent the spread of misinformation, the company has cracked down on QAnon conspiracy theory groups, election falsehoods and anti-vaccination content in recent months, before culminating in the blocking of Trump in January.

Since the board began issuing rulings in January, it has overturned Facebook’s decisions in four out of the five cases it has reviewed. In one case, the board asked Facebook to restore a post that used Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, to make a point about the Trump presidency. Facebook had earlier removed the post because it “promoted dangerous individuals,” but complied with the board’s decision.

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“This case has dramatic implications for the future of speech online because the public and other platforms are looking at how the oversight board will handle what is a difficult controversy that will arise again around the world,” said Nate Persily, a professor at Stanford University’s law school.

He added, “President Trump has pushed the envelope about what is permissible speech on these platforms and he has set the outer limits such that if you are unwilling to go after him, you are allowing a large amount of incitement and hate speech and disinformation online that others are going to propagate.”

Information for this article was contributed by Mike Isaac of The New York Times; by Elizabeth Dwoskin, Cat Zakrzewski, Eugene Scott, Heather Kelly and Rachel Lerman of The Washington Post; and by Matt O’Brien, Barbara Ortutay, Jill Colvin, Tali Arbel and David Klepper of The Associated Press.

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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