Facebook's Hypocritical Trump Ban | Opinion

Being the owner of the global information superhighway weighs heavily on Mark Zuckerberg. The founder and CEO of Facebook has always seemed to agonize over the fact that so much of America's public discourse is conducted via the social media network that he launched from his dorm room.

Zuckerberg was slow to react to the enormous pressure from much of the chattering class to ban accounts of figures and groups it deemed spreaders of "disinformation." Facebook is still being pilloried for that. Yet once its founder authorized his minions to begin censoring content on what U.S. law still views as the digital equivalent of a bulletin board—rather than a publisher with the right to pick and choose what is posted and responsibility for what is published—the platform began to act with impunity. Zuckerberg created an Oversight Board that effectively can function as an internal supreme court to adjudicate the impact of the company's decisions.

But rather than shoulder the blame for Facebook's inconsistent and hypocritical decisions—of which the most prominent is its ban of former president Donald Trump—the liberal-leaning Oversight Board sent the decision back to its employer. Rather than embrace or rescind the punishment of Trump, it gave Facebook six months to further justify its decision. Facebook responded last week with a ruling that set the length of the ban at two years, set to expire January 2023.

The decision was widely derided as merely kicking the can down the road rather than enacting the demands of the liberal establishment to ban Trump and all wrong-thinking conservatives permanently in order to protect democracy. But companies and individuals as powerful as Facebook and Zuckerberg feel no need to justify or even acknowledge inconsistencies and hypocrisy.

But what neither Facebook nor other social media companies don't seem to realize—or care about—is that these policies shred their credibility outside of the liberal cocoon and actually bolster that of Trump. While, despite his claims to the contrary, Trump may have lost the 2020 election, kicking him off of Facebook and Twitter is further evidence that the system does seem to be rigged against him.

While Silicon Valley oligarchs ban Trump for continuing to claim that the 2020 election was stolen, they continue to happily host propaganda outlets for Chinese Communist Party despotism, including the regime's state-run TV.

Facebook is similarly uninterested in curbing the lies that pour forth from the accounts of people like Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif or the dictators of Venezuela or Cuba.

The social media giant's attitude toward suspicions that the coronavirus originated in China's Wuhan Institute of Virology is also damning. Reasonable accusations along these lines were censored right up until the point that the Biden administration was forced to admit they might have merit.

Mark Zuckerberg speaking
Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the VivaTech start-up and technology gathering on May 24, 2018 in Paris, France. Facebook has criticised Apple's iOS privacy update citing concerns over how it could affect businesses. Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty

Much like the discussion about Hunter Biden's alleged corrupt behavior and The New York Post's scoop about the contents of his laptop, censorship of the lab leak theory made plain that Facebook's behavior was both partisan and ideological. The voices demanding more silencing of Trump and the Right claim the future of democracy is at stake. But their definition of that alleged crisis appears to consist of Democrats not getting their way in the Senate, Republicans passing state-level voter integrity laws and, most importantly, the fact that Trump and other conservatives are saying things they don't like.

The initial push for censorship on Facebook came from those who, like actor Sacha Baron Cohen, were angry about the presence of Holocaust deniers on the site. But once the liberal-minded administrators of social media began to act like publishers rather than bulletin board operators, the slippery slope toward silencing those with whom they disagree soon became apparent.

Kicking Trump off of Facebook and Twitter has diminished his immediate influence, if not his broader credibility. As the Times reported this week, deplatforming that poses as "fact checking" has limited the former president's reach even if it doesn't "solve" the problem of his continued popularity on the right.

Reports circulated last week that Trump actually thinks he'll be "reinstated" as president sometime this summer. If he believes that, then he's delusional. But in a democracy, the right to political speech is sacrosanct, whether everything a speaker says is verifiably true or not. If Facebook were an ordinary publisher with the right to promote whatever political agenda it wants and to silence those of which it disapproves, this would not be an issue. Under section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Facebook is exempted from the responsibilities of being a publisher. But the problem is bigger than that. With control of so much of the internet and the fact that growing numbers of Americans get all of their news from Facebook, the company's ability to shut down speech it doesn't like is itself the greatest threat to democracy in 2021.

If Facebook wanted to convince a significant portion of the country—like, for instance, the 74 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump last November—that the system is as rigged as the 45th president claims it to be, it could have done no better than the series of actions it has taken in the last year. By silencing any talk that someone other than Trump was to blame for the pandemic, acting as Joe Biden's bodyguard during the campaign and now exiling the former president from the virtual town square, it has confirmed that its goal was not protecting the truth but ensuring the defeat of Republicans.

As Time reported earlier this year, various left-wing activists, union leaders and corporate CEOs worked together to craft sweeping changes in the rules governing the way America votes. They did their best to encourage and facilitate mail-in voting on an unprecedented scale. This involved discarding rules intended to safeguard the integrity of elections, and pressuring social media companies and press outlets to censor "disinformation" about the election, especially with respect to allegations of fraud. While some of the censored material was false, tech companies also blocked the dissemination of legitimate reporting and commentary that could have undermined Biden.

That wasn't cheating or illegal, but it was enormously consequential.

Censorship in the name of "defending democracy" does just the opposite. In a campaign that Time represented as a counterattack against Trumpian lies, what the anti-Trump forces pulled off was perhaps the biggest lie in modern American political history.

The challenge facing the country is not what to do about Trump's sore-loser tantrums. The real problem is whether the same forces that conspired to tilt the 2020 election in Biden's favor get away with it again. All the cant from Facebook, its Oversight Board and those clamoring for even more censorship about keeping the world safe from Donald Trump won't change that.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.