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Facebook, Other Social Media, Are Caught in the Crosshairs

Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, are under attack from across the political spectrum, and even from within the confines of Facebook itself.  

The Trump Administration and the Justice Department are looking at rolling back some of the legal protections that Facebook and all other social media sites have enjoyed for more than two decades.  

As The Wall Street Journal reported, the Administration is proposing legislative changes that would strip civil immunity afforded to technology companies when platforms facilitate or solicit content or activity that violates federal criminal law, such as online scams, illicit drug activity, online child exploitation, or terrorism.

The president, meanwhile, issued an executive order last month that seeks to impose limits on legal immunity for social media companies when they are deemed to unfairly curb users’ speech, for instance by deleting their posts or suspending their accounts. Some conservatives, in particular, believe Facebook and Twitter deliberately censor their speech.

And yet the attacks are hardly from only the right end of the political spectrum. MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough issued a scathing 7-minute rant on June 17 aimed directly at Zuckerberg for the company’s policy of permitting inflammatory and misleading posts by President Trump and especially some right-wing extremist groups.

“Mark Zuckerberg is promoting extremism, because Mark Zuckerberg is actually – his site, the Zuckerberg tie, has actually set up!  Set up!  Like, ad promotions that actually push people towards extremist sites that kill federal officers!”  Scarborough yelled.  “And Mark Zuckerberg becomes a billionaire!”

Zuckerberg just can’t win. Many of his own employees are furious that Zuckerberg would not take down – or at least label – President Trump’s messages about the George Floyd protests, including his tweet that “when the looting begins, the shooting begins,” which many people interpreted as a call for violence.

Zuckerberg’s intransigence prompted dozens of Facebook employees to participate in a virtual walkout, and at least two employees resigned in protest. 

Said one software engineer on a Facebook page, “Mark always told us that he would draw the line at speech that calls for violence. He showed us on Friday that this was a lie.  Facebook will keep moving the goalposts every time Trump escalates, finding excuse after excuse not to act on increasingly dangerous rhetoric.”

Robert D. Lystad is the Executive Director of the non-profit Campaign for Free Speech, based in Washington, D.C.

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