Facebook oversight board co-chair says website wields ‘too much power’



A co-chair of the Facebook Oversight Board that temporarily extended the ban against former President Donald Trump said Sunday that the social media giant’s rules governing content are in “shambles” and “not transparent” — and the company “exercises too much power.”

Michael McConnell, a law professor at Stanford University, said the board agreed that Facebook was right in removing Trump from the site because he “is subject to the same rules on Facebook as everyone else.”

“What we did say, though, was that they were not justified taking him down indefinitely, that they did not provide any reasons for that, that is not a provision in their rules, that was wrong. And we gave them a certain amount of time to get their house in order,” McConnell told “Fox News Sunday” about last week’s decision.

“They needed some time because their rules are shambles. They are not transparent. They are unclear, they are internally inconsistent. So we made a series of recommendations about how to make their rules clearer and more consistent, and the hope is that they will use the next few months to do that,” McConnell said in the interview that aired Sunday.

“And then when they come back and look at this, they’ll be able to apply those rules in a straight-forward way,” he added.

The board announced the decision last week, finding that the former president violated Facebook’s rules “prohibiting praise or support in support of people engaged in violence” with his posts about the mob attacking the US Capitol on Jan. 6.

Trump referred to the rioters as “great patriots” and called on them to “remember this day forever,” but also said “we have to have peace.”

McConnell said Trump was “egging on” the mob that attacked the Capitol as Congress was certifying the 2020 election for President Biden. 

“So this is a plain violation of Facebook’s rules against praising dangerous individuals and organizations at a time of violence,” McConnell said.

“The simple answer is private companies are not bound by the First Amendment. And so he has no First Amendment rights. He’s a customer. Facebook is not a government, and he is not a citizen of Facebook,” McConnell said.

But he went on to criticize Facebook for its influence and the overarching power it has in the digital marketplace.

“Facebook exercises too much power. They are arbitrary. They are inconsistent and it is the job of the oversight board to try to bring some discipline to that process,” he said.

“So what we have done is to identify ways in which Facebook has been nontransparent, ways in which they’ve been arbitrary and trying to nudge them toward a more free speech, free expression, friendly environment,” McConnell added.

Responding to Wallace’s question about whether social media giants like Facebook and Twitter should be broken up by Congress because of the power they wield, he said that would be up to lawmakers to decide.

“But this is not a First Amendment issue. It is not as if — you can’t go to court, no judge in the country would hold that Mr. Trump’s free speech rights were violated,” McConnell said.

Wallace pressed him on the board’s independence because Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appointed the board’s chairs and set up the trust that pays them.

“Let me tell you, I’ve gotten to know these 20 people around the world, and the danger that they are toadies for Facebook is just about zero. … We are not beholden to Facebook. Most decisions so far have been overturning Facebook’s decisions,” he said.

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