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Facebook is reviewing its decision to indefinitely suspend former US President Donald Trump from its platform.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Facebook‘s oversight board demonstrated on Wednesday that it wouldn’t do the social network’s dirty work.  

In January, former US President Donald Trump lost much of his digital reach when Facebook indefinitely booted him from the social network and Instagram, its photo service. Like other social networks, Facebook raised concerns that Trump’s online remarks could provoke more violence in the wake of the deadly Capitol Hill riot that month. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the suspension in a post that called the risks of allowing Trump to to continue using the network “simply too great.”

The decision was controversial, and the social media giant asked the oversight board tasked with reviewing its toughest content decisions to uphold or overturn Trump’s suspension. The highly watched decision put the board in a tricky spot, placing the members at the center of a firestorm about how social networks should handle political speech. 

On Wednesday, the oversight board came to a decision that sent Zuckerberg and his team a strong message. It agreed with the suspension of Trump. But it found Facebook had issued a punishment that the social network’s own rules don’t describe and hadn’t adequately explained its reasoning for the penalty. The board told Facebook that it’ll be up to the social network, and not the board, to decide the length of Trump’s suspension. 

“In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities,” the board said in its decision. “The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.”

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The pushback from the oversight board, which dodged some of the heat that could surely come with the high-profile and controversial decision, is evidence that it won’t let Facebook use it as a scapegoat. The board pointed out flaws in Facebook’s rules, noting that “indefinite” suspensions aren’t described in its content rules. In the past, the social network has taken down content that violates its rules, imposed suspensions for a certain amount of time or permanently taken down an account or page. 

In the days leading up to the decision, discussion centered on whether Facebook was using the board to do the social network’s “dirty work for them so they can absolve themselves of responsibility,” said Jen Golbeck, an associate professor at the University of Maryland in College Park who focuses on social media. 

Facebook has six months to review the Trump ban from the platform, a decision that’ll also have an impact on other political leaders around the globe. “We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate,” Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications, said in a blog post. “In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended.”

Trump in a statement criticized Facebook, as well as Google and Twitter, as “corrupt.” The companies must “pay a political price,” Trump wrote. (The companies have repeatedly denied allegations of political bias against conservatives.)

Of course, the decision also underscored the board’s limited power. It can’t rewrite or change Facebook’s policies. It can only make recommendations, which the social network then decides what to do with. 

“It certainly wasn’t an exercise of power,” Golbeck said, referring to the board’s decision. “It remains to be seen if they will have any.” 

Meanwhile, Facebook is facing calls for regulation from both political parties, including an effort to change a law known as Section 230. The law shields online platforms from liability for content posted by users. 

“Every day, Facebook is amplifying and promoting disinformation and misinformation, and the structure and rules governing its oversight board generally seem to ignore this disturbing reality. It’s clear that real accountability will only come with legislative action,” US Rep. Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, tweeted Wednesday.

Every day, Facebook is amplifying and promoting disinformation and misinformation, and the structure and rules governing its oversight board generally seem to ignore this disturbing reality. It’s clear that real accountability will only come with legislative action.

— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) May 5, 2021

The same day, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise from Louisiana criticized Facebook’s ban of Trump.

“Big Tech has a choice: Have the same standards for ALL–or–we look at antitrust laws to limit their monopolistic power,” Scalise tweeted. “If they can do this to a president, imagine what they can do to you.” 

The Left’s cancel culture is out of control. Facebook’s ban of Trump is just more proof.

Big Tech has a choice: Have the same standards for ALL—or—we look at antitrust laws to limit their monopolistic power.

If they can do this to a president, imagine what they can do to you.

— Steve Scalise (@SteveScalise) May 5, 2021

Advocacy groups also weighed in on the decision. A group of prominent critics that calls itself “the real Facebook oversight board” added in a blog post that the social network’s “attempt to divert attention from its fundamental failure to take responsibility for what’s on its own platform has itself failed.” 

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If you’re flying with American Airlines through July 15, be prepared.


American Airlines

American Airlines is canceling some flights through mid-July due to a surge in travel demand as the pandemic fades in the US, as earlier reported by CNN. Weather and labor shortages are factoring into the cancellations as well, a spokesperson said.

The airline apparently had 120 cancellations on Saturday and expects to cancel 50 to 80 flights each day. If you’re due to fly with the airline through July 15, you should already have a notification if your flight has been canceled.

For context, American Airlines confirmed it had a total of 5,930 flights scheduled for Monday.

“The first few weeks of June have brought unprecedented weather to our largest hubs, heavily impacting our operation and causing delays, canceled flights and disruptions to crew member schedules and our customers’ plans,” a spokesperson said in a statement emailed to CNET. 

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“That, combined with the labor shortages some of our vendors are contending with and the incredibly quick ramp-up of customer demand, has led us to build in additional resilience and certainty to our operation by adjusting a fraction of our scheduled flying through mid-July.”

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella speaks at a Microsoft event in 2019.


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Microsoft’s board of directors this week voted to appoint CEO Satya Nadella as the chairman of the board, making him even more influential in steering one of the world’s tech giants.

In a press release, Microsoft said the board unanimously elected Nadella to the new position. He replaces John Thompson, who will move into a lead independent director role, on the heels of a blockbuster fiscal year — and as the company approaches a $2 trillion market capitalization. Apple has been the only company to reach that value.

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Microsoft has a typically busy year ahead of it, starting with its expected unveiling of a redesigned Windows operating system next week. The company is also in the midst of rolling out its newest gaming systems, the Xbox Series X and Series S — which have sold out within hours of nearly every restock since last year.

Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook and President Donald Trump in March 2019

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks with President Donald Trump during a meeting at the White House in March 2019.


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Trump administration officials subpoenaed Apple for data from at least a dozen people connected to the House Intelligence Committee in an attempt to root out the source of leaks of classified information, The New York Times reported this week. The targets included at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members — one of whom was a minor.

Prosecutors, who seized the records in 2017 and early 2018, were searching for the source of media leaks about contacts between Trump associates and Russia, the Times reported. Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat, was one of the members of Congress targeted, sources told the newspaper.

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Apple provided metadata and account information, but not photos, emails or other content, a person familiar with the inquiry told the Times. Ultimately, the data subpoenaed didn’t tie the committee to the leaks, the newspaper reported.

The report follows recent revelations that former President Donald Trump’s administration had secretly obtained phone and email records from a number of journalists, including reporters for CNN and the Washington Post. President Joe Biden said last month he had directed the Justice Department to end the practice of seizing phone or email records of reporters.

As it did with the news organizations, the Justice Department obtained a gag order that prevented Apple from disclosing the subpoenas, a source told the Times. Lawmakers only learned of the probe last month from Apple, after the gag order had expired, the newspaper reported.

Schiff called the investigation “baseless” and said it highlighted how Trump used the system to target political enemies.

“This baseless investigation, while now closed, is yet another example of Trump’s corrupt weaponization of justice,” Schiff said in a tweet Thursday evening.

Trump repeatedly demanded the DOJ go after his political enemies.

It’s clear his demands didn’t fall on deaf ears.

 

This baseless investigation, while now closed, is yet another example of Trump’s corrupt weaponization of justice.

And how much he imperiled our democracy.

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) June 11, 2021

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, another prominent Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Thursday evening he had been notified that his data was seized as part of the probe. Representatives for Swalwell, a longtime critic of Trump, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple typically receives thousands of requests each year for individual data from governments and private parties in litigation around the world. In April, the company reported that requests it received in 2020 had targeted 171,368 devices, a drop of 12% from the same time in 2019. Apple provided the information requested 80% of the time.

Representatives for Apple and the Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment. On Friday, however, Apple said it didn’t know that the DOJ’s subpoena targeted Democrats‘ data. The subpoena sought data belonging to a seemingly random collection of email addresses and phone numbers and “provided no information on the nature of the investigation,” a company spokesman told CNBC in a statement. “It would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts.”

CNBC also reported Friday that Microsoft received a similar DOJ subpoena. “In this case, we were prevented from notifying the customer for more than two years because of a gag order,” the company told the news outlet in a statement. “As soon as the gag order expired, we notified the customer who told us they were a congressional staffer. We then provided a briefing to the representative’s staff following that notice. We will continue to aggressively seek reform that imposes reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this.” 

Also on Friday, the Justice Department’s independent inspector general opened an investigation into the subpoena for the data, The New York Times reported.

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