The EPA Is Doing Its Job Again

Illustration for article titled The EPA Is Doing Its Job Again

Photo: Mark Wilson (Getty Images)

For the Environmental Protection Agency, having Donald Trump in office was kind of like letting loose a bull in a china shop for four years. Now, the Biden administration is rapidly attempting to clean up the mess he left behind. In doing so, we’re getting a better picture of just how far the agency has fallen behind in holding polluters accountable even before Trump showed up.

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The EPA said Thursday that it was moving to rescind a rule issued under the Trump administration that hamstrung the agency’s ability to effectively calculate and enforce air pollution violations under the Clean Air Act. The regulation, known as the cost-benefit rule, required the agency to complicate its cost-benefit analysis for rulemaking. Trump’s EPA chief Andrew Wheeler said it was designed to reduce transparency, but also admitted would prevent the EPA from passing future regulations on things like mercury pollution from power plants—a rule that cost industry $9 billion to comply with after it was passed under the Obama administration. (The cost-benefit regulation was a long-awaited wish list item for the fossil fuel industry, which gives you an idea of who really benefited from the rule.)

The move is the latest in this administration’s effort to undo the damage Trump did. President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office requiring the EPA to review all rules and policies passed under Trump. That’s good and all given the widespread damage Trump did to the agency by appointing coal lovers Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler to lead the EPA during his administration.

But a new report from the agency’s watchdog shows the EPA has been dragging its feet a little on keeping polluters in line even before our last Big Wet President wreaked havoc. The EPA’s Office of Inspector General issued a report Thursday that found that between 2007 and 2018, there was a decline across the board in enforcement actions from the EPA with some types of enforcement actions declining by as much as 50%. This decline was despite a corresponding boom in industrial activity and economic growth that should have prompted the agency to go after polluters even harder.

“The decline in compliance monitoring activities meant that, over time, the Agency and the public had less knowledge about compliance by regulated entities and whether facilities emitted pollutants that could be harmful to people,” the report found.

The reason for this decline, the report found, was a decline in resources. The budget for EPA enforcement in 2018 was 18% less than it was in 2006, laeding leadership to cut resources even as polluting industries saw a boom. The report also found that leadership in the agency chose to put most of their enforcement resources into bigger efforts, leaving the smaller enforcement actions to less-well-funded state agencies.

Much of this decline in funding happened pre-Trump; his gutting of the agency, including eliminating some wonky but key enforcement actions, served to hamstring enforcement even further. But there are signs that the Biden EPA is working to make up for lost time, especially as it commits itself to climate progress and environmental justice. Last week, the agency’s acting assistant administrator sent a memo instructing the agency to ramp up “enforcement of violations of cornerstone environmental statutes” in communities vulnerable to pollution. The agency also issued a fresh update this week with new statistics and measurements on its Climate Change Indicators site, which sat long-neglected under the Trump administration. (The EPA climate change subsite also returned earlier this year.)

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It was wild watching how quickly the Trump EPA moved to roll back environmental protections—but disappointing knowing the agency was letting some polluters off the hook even before he showed up. Here’s hoping the new administration will work double-time to right the ship.

Michigan Republicans Want to Legally Protect Their ‘Right to Be Wrong Without Being Told So’

Trump supporters protest the 2020 election results on Nov. 7, 2020, outside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.

Trump supporters protest the 2020 election results on Nov. 7, 2020, outside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing.
Photo: Seth Herald/AFP (Getty Images)

Republicans! They just love their live-action role-playing, don’t they folks. They’re still questing to find the magic law that will stop the nefarious Silicon Valley leftists and antifa journalists from censoring the land of Real America. The latest proposal? Forcing fact-checkers to register with the state.

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The Detroit News reports that Michigan state Representative Matt Maddock (R-Milford) has introduced the “Fact Checker Registration Act,” a bill that requires all individuals who publish in print or online in Michigan, is paid by a fact-checking organization and is a member of the International Fact Check Network to file a $1 million fidelity bond with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. (Importantly, the IFCN certifies Facebook’s fact-checkers.) Any “affected person” could then file a claim for “any wrongful conduct that is a violation of the laws of this state” in county district court and the bond could be forfeited if a judge ruled the fact checker’s work had resulted in “demonstrable harm.” Thus the bill, as written, tries to fulfill a conservative fantasy of any aggrieved conservative being able to sue fact-checkers for six figures for practically any reason agreed upon by a judge (hopefully a loyal Republican).

In a post on Facebook, Maddock wrote, “My legislation will put Fact Checkers on notice: don’t be wrong, don’t be sloppy, and you better be right.”

The bill would also fine fact-checkers $1,000 a day if they failed to register. Eight other GOP representatives, Pat Outman, John Roth, Gary Eisen, David Martin, Robert Bezotte, Beth Griffin, John Damoose, and Steve Carra, are co-sponsors on the bill.

Maddock has a history of anti-democratic stunts and obvious personal antipathy for fact-checkers in general. According to the Detroit News, he’s proposed burning voting machines belonging to a voting tech manufacturer that right-wingers baselessly accused of electoral fraud “so we don’t use them in future elections,” he was involved in a failed federal lawsuit demanding presidential election results be certified by GOP-controlled state legislatures in five swing states, and he signed onto another failed federal suit before the Supreme Court trying to invalidate Joe Biden’s victory in Michigan. All of these efforts relied on what might be euphemistically deemed “alternative facts.”

According to the Detroit Metro Times, Maddock rallied a crowd to attempt to disrupt vote counting at TCF Center on Nov. 6, 2020, fabricating a claim that 35,000 votes for Biden “showed up out of nowhere.” He also urged former Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify the 2020 election results under the mistaken argument that Pence could have somehow single-handedly kept Trump in office, one of the key motives of the crowd of Trump supporters that threw a riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, ultimately resulting in several deaths.

Republicans have largely swallowed hook, line, and sinker conspiracy theories that social media companies are biased against conservatives. They have been especially enraged about piecemeal efforts by companies like Facebook and Twitter to fact-check some posts, as the companies attached fact-checking labels to posts by Donald Trump and other Republican politicians and otherwise imposed speedbumps on the virality of hoax news.

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Several states have seen pushes by GOP legislators to introduce laws that would clear the way for conservatives to bombard websites with “censorship” lawsuits, while Republicans in Florida are trying to pass a law that would fine sites that “knowingly de-platform” candidates. (In reality, the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube amplify the right-wing online noise machine that heavily influences the day-to-day priorities of GOP politicians and candidates, with Facebook, in particular, going out of its way to treat conservatives preferentially.)

The Washington Post noted other GOP-backed legislation has included a 2016 bill in South Carolina that would have the state only allow “responsible” journalists to publish, a 2017 bill in Indiana requiring licensing of journalists, and a 2019 proposal in Georgia to create a state “Journalism Ethics Board” that would control the way journalists did their work and impose punishments for non-compliance.

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Let’s just take a moment to really emphasize that libel and defamation laws already exist.

These and other related speech bills such as congressional Republicans’ threats to throw out Section 230, a law that protects websites against most liability for user-generated content or their moderation decisions, all have two things in common. While they’re couched as protecting First Amendment rights to free speech, they’re really designed so as to assist conservatives in suppressing any speech that challenges their own speech. And barring some truly extreme upsets to legal precedent—something that’s certainly possible with a Supreme Court packed with right-wingers and/or a Republican takeover of Congress and White House in 2024—the proposals largely amount to magical thinking about the way Republicans think the First Amendment ought to be, rather than how it actually works in practice. Virtually all of the aforementioned laws would be likely thrown out in court on constitutional grounds, as journalists and social media firms both have First Amendment rights of their own, to rule otherwise would invite disastrous secondary consequences.

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Case in point: In a statement to the Washington Post, Maddock suggested that the First Amendment actually means people have a right to be wrong without being told so.

“This isn’t about journalists or free speech,” he said. “It’s about the fact-checkers who have been injected into our First Amendment right to be wrong if we want to. If a fact check entity is bankrupting businesses and cancelling people with lies, they should be held accountable. If they have high standards and are doing good fact checking, they have nothing to worry about.”

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Trump Is a Low-Ratings, Computer-Blogging Loser

Illustration for article titled Trump Is a Low-Ratings, Computer-Blogging Loser

Photo: Mandel Ngan (Getty Images)

Did you know that former edgelord president Donald J. Trump is now an edgelord blogger? Most people do not, evidently. Operation: Blog, aka “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” launched last Tuesday. In the meantime, Trump has posted 19 times, beginning with an Armageddon-inspired trailer ending with the message “SAVE AMERICA.” America has not yet been saved, and data reveals that the ratings (or whatever they call it in “blog”) are a hair’s breadth away from a MySpace page.

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As NBC first noticed, data from the social media analytics company BuzzSumo shows that the blog now has a little over 221,000 total organic shares across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, and links. (This isn’t counting backlinks from news sites announcing the launch of the blog.) His worst-performing post, ringing in at 25 shares, contains whining about how “election reforms” in Georgia didn’t pass in time for him to win the presidency.

BuzzSumo data shows that Kourtney Kardashian’s blog Poosh is putting up nearly 600,000 shares on an average Tuesday.

The blog is either highly suspect or represents a stunning achievement. First, someone’s gotta upload blogs, using a computer, which he famously does not do: meaning that in mere months, he has learned to process words through a word processor, master a browser, keep track of login credentials, and navigate the mind-bending complexity of the backend. He has adopted the Oxford comma and occasionally correctly places other commas between independent clauses. The spacious single-paragraph format has freed him to spell the full word “and” and to expand the noisy parentheticals into full sentences. In the place of menacing ellipses, one of his favorite tweet closers, thoughts now more logically conclude with exclamation points!

The conquest has publicly evolved from a few thwarted sorties to wrest back his Twitter powers. In February, the Daily Beast reported that he scribbled down insults about Liz Cheney for other people to tweet. After Mission: Napkin Tweet failed to launch, we then received the tweet-length emailed statements on “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” letterhead. (Twitter has suspended an account devoted to tweeting them.) In March, Trump told Newsmax that his mini-press releases were “more elegant than tweeting, as the expression goes.” It’s a blogger expression. The backlog of those faux tweets now appear on Trump’s blog along with recent musings, most of which I won’t transcribe in this blogspace, but he called a racehorse a “junky” the other day.

Nobody is allowed to hang out there or comment or follow, but the terms of service suggest that some social media functions are coming down the pike. It includes a note that the site reserves the right to remove any user-generated content “at any time and for any reason without notice,” exactly the kind of 1984 Censorship(!!) which inspired his executive order to make Twitter let him say whatever he wanted.

You can give him money, but he makes no promises about what he’ll do with it.

Can one blogger save America? Mark Zuckerberg can, in the sense that he can do nothing.

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Trump 2020 Holdouts Stand in Line for 7 Hours to See World’s Biggest Corn Cob, Err, Mike Lindell

The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota in 2015.

The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota in 2015.
Photo: Dirk Lammers (AP)

Hundreds of Republicans that still believe that, contrary to any and all evidence, Donald Trump actually won the 2020 elections and only didn’t get a second term in office due to mass voter fraud congregated together on the Corn Palace in South Dakota on Monday to see the World’s Biggest Corn Cob. By which we mean, a sweaty guy with a mustache yelling about voting machines and who kept on telling them to log onto his friend Frank.

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The Corn Palace is a big arena slash tourist trap that is themed around corn. Usually, the biggest corn cobs on display there are statues with cartoon faces on them, accompanied by lots of other regular-sized corn cobs for theming. MyPillow co-founder and attempted coup leader Mike Lindell spoke there on Monday to continue spreading a hoax theory that the Chinese government, or other nefarious foreigners, worked in concert with U.S. election tech firms such as Dominion Voting Systems to subvert the outcome of the 2020 vote. He was also there to promote the supposed re-launch of his failed social media website, Frank Speech, which almost entirely consists of Lindell livestreams and ads for pillow coupons. He claimed 30,000 would be in attendance.

Well, Lindell fans reportedly came from as far afield as Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin—Texas being a 15-hour drive or so—and formed lines that stretched around the building, with some reportedly waiting seven hours or more to get into an event they had been assured would be packed to capacity.

After all that waiting, it turns out the line was a crock of shit. There weren’t more than about 1,500 people inside, about half of the total that can fit in the Corn Palace. Anyone could have waltzed right in. And, as mentioned before, the only giant corn cob on display was Mike.

This corn-themed hellhole show went on for the next three and a half hours. The Dickinson Press summed it up as largely consisting of Lindell reiterating debunked claims he’s repeated endlessly on air, as well as predicting that regular citizens would successfully petition the Supreme Court to return Trump to the presidency by the end of the summer:

Lindell spoke for nearly 90 minutes, serving as the crescendo for the crowd in attendance after seeing a number of conservative personalities for the prior two hours… He says his evidence shows that China corrupted election machines and changed the voting results in the election, denying Donald Trump from winning by 14 million votes. Lindell’s goal, he said, is for regular citizens to put significant pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to look at the evidence. He said if that happens, Trump will be back in office as president by August.

“They will have to protect our country and it’s going to be a 9-0 vote to pull the election down,” Lindell said, adding that “evil is overplaying its hand” in politics in this country.

Lindell, who told the crowd that he doesn’t know anything about cybersecurity or informational technology, said he has kept his name in the news since November to help spread his claims about the election being fraudulent.

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Frank Speech’s original rollout in April was plagued with crashes and glitches, which Lindell and his partners blamed on DDOS attacks, rather than obvious technical ineptitude and the apparent lack of any social features. Despite the event on Monday being billed as a relaunch, the only content on the Frank Speech website appears to be livestreams of Lindell and other conspiracy theorists talking, reposted news articles, and podcast episodes. The signup screen returned an error stating “The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.” The signup attempt later succeeded, though there appears to be no difference in functionality beyond the ability to log in and log out and the collection of personal information during the signup process—possibly for the purpose of selling it to political committees. Despite the website requiring users to input a phone number for the ostensible purpose of anti-spam verification, Frank Speech happily accepted the phone number “1-111-111-1111”.

Anyone displeased with the festivities at the Corn Palace won’t be getting a refund for their ticket, as it was a free event. Perhaps they could sue, but something tells us Lindell would love that.

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Conservatives Demand Supreme Court Overrule Fake Facebook Court, Others Weigh In

Illustration for article titled Conservatives Demand Supreme Court Overrule Fake Facebook Court, Others Weigh In

Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Facebook’s Oversight Board, the pseudo-legalistic, questionably independent body that the company claims has the power to review and potentially overrule official moderation decisions, issued its not-so-final proclamations regarding the status of Donald Trump’s account.

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The now-former president has been suspended from Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram after inciting deadly riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an ill-fated bid to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 elections. In short, the board punted right back to Facebook, upholding the suspension itself but claiming Facebook arbitrarily made up rules regarding “indefinite” bans to handle the Trump situation. The Oversight Board told Facebook to make an actual decision to either permanently ban Trump or unlock his account within six months.

As with everything regarding this godawful company, the inevitable pile-on took a clear partisan split. Republicans and right-wingers viewed the decision not to allow Trump back on the site—which could potentially have ramifications for any attempt at a political resurgence—as an affront on their values and free speech. Democrats and civil rights groups, for their part, generally expressed relief that the Oversight Board spared the country yet more angry posts from the ex-president but also focused on the ludicrousness of the entire venture.

As it turns out, the only people to have swallowed Facebook’s attempts to brand the Oversight Board as a pseudo-governmental arm of a sovereign entity hook, line, and sinker are right-wingers. Suddenly confronted with a vision of corporate dystopia they didn’t like, some Republicans turned to a higher power for help— among them Charlie Kirk, head of the ebullient diaper lad campus Republican and Facebook-spamming organization Turning Point USA. No, we don’t mean God, just something else equally as unlikely to intervene: the Supreme Court.

Kirk tweeted:

The US Supreme Court should overturn the Facebook’s ‘Oversight Board’s” ‘ruling’ which upholds the outlawing of the 45th President of the United States from social media.

This is a big tech, corporate oligarchy without standing and it’s gone too far. Enough is enough.

(The decision is not subject to review by SCOTUS, unless the type of lawsuit that has historically been laughed out of lower courts somehow makes it there, and the justices all decide to join Justice Clarence Thomas in throwing out decades of precedent and law to declare digital platforms as common carriers who can’t ban anyone.)

Kirk’s panicked viewpoint was mimicked by conservative pundit J.D. Vance, author of the loathsome Hillbilly Elegy and who has graduated from self-declared Trump supporter whisperer to prospective Ohio Senate candidate.

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Vance tweeted:

The Facebook oversight board has more power than the United Nations.

Conservatives were right to worry about giving our sovereignty away to a multinational institution. We just picked the wrong one.

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Will Chamberlain, co-publisher of right-wing magazine Human Events, tweeted, “A corporate committee has no more legitimacy to rule on censorship issues than a random anon on Twitter.” Random QAnon conspiracy theorist turned congresswoman Lauren Boebert, issued a vague threat: “Facebook will pay the price. Mark my words.”

More generally, Republicans used the Oversight Board ruling as an opportunity to continue harping on endlessly about alleged anti-conservative bias in Facebook algorithms (pure bullshit, as right-wing pundits and media consistently make up the bulk of the site’s top performers). According to CNN, the usual circus of right-wing sites including Fox, Breitbart, and Gateway Pundit all led with coverage declaring the decision as Orwellian censorship. Senator Tom Cotton said that the Oversight Board shouldn’t be weighing in on “issues of free speech,” while former White House chief of staff turned radio host Mark Meadows and guest Representative Jim Jordan both agreed it was time to “break them [Big Tech] up.”

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Trump issued a statement to several media outlets that we don’t give a shit about.

The reaction from Democrats and activist organizations focused less on the fate of Trump than the convoluted, corporate funhouse carnival process by which the decision was made, as well as whether it was meaningful at all.

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Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tweeted, “Facebook is amplifying and promoting disinformation and misinformation, and the structure and rules governing its oversight board generally seem to ignore this disturbing reality.” He added that “real accountability will only come with legislative action.”

Evan Greer, director of digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, told Gizmodo in a statement, “The vast majority of people who are silenced by Big Tech platform censorship are not former Presidents or celebrities, they are marginalized people, particularly sex workers and politically active Muslims who live outside the U.S. We can go back and forth all day about where the lines should be drawn, but simply demanding more and faster removal of content will not address the very real harms we are seeing.”

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“It’s quite telling that Facebook refused to answer several of the Oversight Board’s questions about its algorithms and actual design decisions,” Greer added. “We need to strike at the root of the problem: break Big Tech giants, ban surveillance advertising and non-transparent algorithmic manipulation, and fight for policies that address this parasitic business model while preserving the transformative and democratizing power of the Internet as a powerful tool for social movements working for justice and liberation.”

David Segal, executive director of the Demand Progress Education Fund, a nonprofit that advocates enforcement of antitrust law, told Gizmodo in a statement that the Oversight Board is a smokescreen for Facebook’s business practices.

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“Facebook’s monopoly status means it does not compete in a free marketplace: not on privacy, not on algorithms, not in the online advertising market–which accelerates the spread of incendiary content,” Segal wrote. “To the extent anyone focuses on what the Facebook ‘Oversight’ Board says and not what they are—a mechanism to distract attention from and provide credibility to Facebook—we give Facebook a pass for its unfair and dangerous monopolistic practice.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights Under Law, a civil rights group, focused on the Oversight Board’s decision not to ban Trump outright.

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David Brody, the head of the group’s Digital Justice Initiative, wrote to Gizmodo that “Facebook must immediately and permanently ban former President Trump.” He added the Oversight Board’s decision “did not evaluate the full context of the case and it used legal technicalities to avoid answering hard questions. For example, it failed to address Trump’s repeated use of Facebook to inflame hate and racism, or his long history of spreading divisive lies and disinformation prior to the 2020 election. Over-reliance on formalist schools of legal analysis entrenches dominant power structures by turning a blind eye to the big picture.”

Greer told Gizmodo that while there is growing pressure to act against Facebook for its monopolistic business practices, lack of transparency, and monetization of hate speech and propaganda, ill-advised legislation seeking to rein in the company’s power could do more harm than good. For example, Republicans and Democrats alike have targeted Section 230, the law that shields websites from most liability for user-generated content, with legislation that could have unforeseen consequences or threaten the legal foundations of the internet economy.

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“The most dangerous thing that could happen right now is if the public accepts the idea that lawmakers should just do ‘something, anything’ about Big Tech,” Greer wrote. “We need thoughtful policies that actually address harms, not more partisan dunking and working of the refs.”

Oversight Board Finds Facebook Took the Coward’s Way Out With Trump Ban, Also Takes Coward’s Way Out

Illustration for article titled Oversight Board Finds Facebook Took the Coward's Way Out With Trump Ban, Also Takes Coward's Way Out

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin (AP)

America may have to wait another six months to find out whether Facebook has the capacity to make a good decision.

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On Wednesday, Facebook’s Oversight Board announced that it would uphold the social media network’s decision to suspend Donald Trump from its main site and Instagram after he rallied his supporters to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a failed effort to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race. It also ruled that when Facebook announced Trump would be banned “indefinitely” and punted the final decision on whether it would become permanent to the board, it was just arbitrarily making shit up.

“The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account,” the board wrote in its decision. “However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.”

“The Board found that the two posts by Mr. Trump on January 6 severely violated Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines,” the board continued. “‘We love you. You’re very special’ in the first post and ‘great patriots’ and ‘remember this day forever’ in the second post violated Facebook’s rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence. The Board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.”

“Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7,” they added. “…[But] it is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored… In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities.”

The board then told Facebook that within six months, it must revisit the matter and either make Trump’s ban permanent themselves or release his account. They wrote the final determination “must be based on the gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm” and “be consistent with Facebook’s rules for severe violations, which must, in turn, be clear, necessary and proportionate.”

Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.

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The Oversight Board, depending on who one asks, is either an independent body made up of academics, lawyers, politicians, and free speech activists with the ability to review and overrule virtually any of Facebook’s moderation decisions, including when Facebook rules in favor of the person who posted the contested content—or it’s an exercise in thinly veiled corporate obfuscation designed to add a patina of legitimacy to the company’s decisions. (Don’t blame us; blame the Oversight Board!) The board issued its first set of rulings in January, but the board took months to reach a conclusion as to whether our former carbuncle-in-chief’s use of Facebook to try and incite a coup, albeit a really shitty one, violated the site’s rules despite it clearly having done so.

Cori Crider, a director at Foxglove, a non-profit that works with Facebook content moderators around the world, told Gizmodo via email that the Oversight Board served to distract from Facebook’s broken moderation system and the grueling conditions that the army of contractors who man it labors under. Crider said absorbing the real cost of providing adequate “staff, pay, and mental health support” to keep Facebook would be transformative for the company, which is why they’ve done everything in their power to avoid doing it.

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“Facebook is desperately hoping we’ll all pay attention to its shiny Oversight Board and ignore the real issue–content moderation on Facebook is totally broken,” Crider wrote. “It’s mostly done not by this Board but in digital sweatshops, and they don’t want to spend the money to fix it.”

“Today’s decision about Donald Trump is just one of thousands of similar decisions that get made every day with far less fanfare by underpaid, outsourced content moderators,” Crider wrote. “But instead of a plummy title and a six-figure stipend, the real content moderators are kept in working conditions that give lots of them PTSD. Facebook refuses to hire them, even though they’re the very heart of the business. And this lackadaisical approach to industrial-scale content moderation hasn’t been remotely enough to stop Facebook being a river of hate, lies, and violence.”

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“… Moderators have real insight into the spread of lies and violence on Facebook, but when they try to suggest changes or report issues up, it’s like talking to a brick wall. Zuck ought to listen to their views,” Crider added. “I’d also invite all the Oversight Board members, if they’re really concerned about the health of the global public square, to sit in a Facebook moderator’s shoes for a week and grapple with the violence and hate and child abuse themselves. It would open their eyes to what Facebook really is – and lead to them calling for their colleagues to be given a fairer shake.”

Trump was always more concerned with the ban on @realDonaldTrump, his now-defunct Twitter account where he could more directly influence or at least try to piss off the droves of media and political elites on the platform. His account peaked at nearly 89 million followers before the kill date in January. Trump went so far as to continue posting via a series of alts including his campaign account, which was banned too. He’s seemed less eager about Facebook, where he has just shy of 33 million followers and an additional 24 million on Instagram, despite the site fueling a vast, servile right-wing digital media ecosystem that relentlessly promoted his presidency, filled his coffers, and ginned up the manpower for the Jan. 6 riot. He did briefly attempt to evade the ban by livestreaming via daughter-in-law Lara Trump’s account, though that attempt was aborted after Facebook warned workarounds wouldn’t pass scrutiny.

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While Wednesday’s decision does uphold Facebook’s original decision to suspend access to Trump’s account, it could also be read as giving Facebook up to another six months to make up its mind after seeing which way the winds are blowing. Conservatives went into virtual apoplexy when Trump got banned from both sites, neutering his social media presence overnight. They’re bound to be just as displeased about the Oversight Board’s decision, which puts a capstone on four years of Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg bending over backwards to please Republican politicians and pundits who went on to vitriolically criticize the site anyhow.

Now will start another era of Facebook doing exactly that, just in a slightly different manner with vaguely different rhetoric and with or without Trump. The system works!

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This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Area Man Wants You To Check Out His Blog

Illustration for article titled Area Man Wants You To Check Out His Blog

Photo: Drew Angerer / Staff (Getty Images)

After threatening for months to disrupt social media with a bespoke platform that would allow him to bypass community guidelines (and the embarrassingly long list of platforms he’s been banned from), our big patriotic boy has finally made good on his promise. Folks, the wait is over — the future is now, and it’s a blog.

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On Tuesday, former president Donald Trump launched his long-awaited social media platform, which, if you really squint at it, kind of resembles a rudimentary version of Twitter, if Twitter had been designed by a day-glo boomer hunkered down in Palm Beach, Florida. Titled “From the desk of Donald J. Trump,” the “feed” is tucked inconspicuously into a corner of Trump’s website and features that classic commentary we all know and love — pithy observations from a very old man who always cared more about how his snarky commentary would be received than he did about actual governance or, you know, people.

“Happy Easter to ALL, including the Radical Left CRAZIES who rigged our Presidential Election, and want to destroy our Country!” reads one post.

“So nice to see RINO Mitt Romney booed off the stage at the Utah Republican State Convention,” reads another. “They are among the earliest to have figured this guy out, a stone cold loser!”

Although the platform just launched, there are already posts dating back as early as March, which implies the existence of a universe where developers could have simply “forgotten” to plug this thing into the internet and kept it offline forever, leaving Trump content to shoot his foul musings straight off into the void for the rest of time.

The platform also features the option to share Trump’s commentary on Twitter and Facebook — two platforms that, as of this writing, the former president is still currently banned from. Significantly, the platform’s launch comes just hours before Facebook’s Oversight Board is expected to hand down a decision on whether or not Trump will be allowed back on Facebook and its subsidiaries, including Instagram.

Trump was famously banned from a host of platforms in January after his rage-stoking rigged-election commentary incited an angry mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol, ultimately leaving five people dead.

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According to Fox News, the page is the work of Campaign Nucleus, a “digital ecosystem made for efficiently managing political campaigns and organizations,” helmed by Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale.

The moral of the story is clear: You can take the Twitter out of the president, but you can’t take the tweet out of the poster. Or something like that.

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Future of American Democracy Hangs in Balance and/or Doesn’t

Illustration for article titled Future of American Democracy Hangs in Balance and/or Doesn't

Photo: Luis M. Alvarez (AP)

Facebook’s Oversight Board, the supposedly independent watchdog tasked with determining whether Donald Trump’s ban from Facebook after he incited a deadly neo-fascist riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 will be as permanent as his Twitter ban, has reached a decision. On Monday, it stated that it will be announcing its findings at Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. ET.

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At stake is Trump’s ability to once again communicate with his 32 million Facebook followers, which was “indefinitely” suspended on Jan. 7 after he posted a video telling the rioters, “We love you. You’re very special.” After Twitter made it clear that Trump will never again be allowed to return, this is the ex-president’s biggest remaining chunk of social media real estate. When Facebook originally banned Trump, CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that he had crossed the line with “use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government” and “the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”

After an outcry from conservatives, Facebook punted the issue to the Oversight Board, a group of academics, politicians, lawyers, tech activists, and others that the company says has the power to overrule its moderators on almost anything. Depending on who you ask, the board is either an independent check on Facebook’s wildly disproportionate influence on what views get aired online or a corporate facade designed to distance the company from the fallout of its decisions.

There is, of course, a preferable outcome: The Oversight Board recommends Facebook permanently ban Trump from posing ever again, no exceptions. But one could be hesitant to call this outcome “good,” rather than just richly deserved. Facebook has every right to allow or decline Trump further use of its services. That doesn’t somehow reverse or heal the damage the company was complicit in along the way, from years of tolerating vile hate speech and bending over backwards to justify Trump’s calls for the military to shoot protesters to serving as one of the primary organizing platforms for the Jan. 6 riots.

Facebook could have banned Trump at any time—but didn’t until he was both out of power and had played his desperate last hand at retaining it. This is illustrative of the incoherent, profit-driven judgment that makes social media companies terrible arbiters of internet speech in the first place. The company has long twisted itself into pretzels to avoid angering conservative politicians and pundits who have learned to wield accusations of liberal bias as an effective cudgel to earn favorable treatment, even as its newsfeed has been a godsend to right-wing content farms. If insurrection is Facebook’s breaking point, the bar couldn’t be lower.

The other outcome is indisputably worse: That Trump is allowed to remain on the site after all that hate speech and calls to violence despite Facebook’s proven utility in helping the far-right translate rhetoric into action. For all the focus on his Twitter account, his Facebook presence was also a major megaphone. Further, data from Socialbakers showed that while the majority of Trump-related content on Twitter was negative, he enjoyed a distinct advantage on Facebook, which was awash in pro-Trump commentary and headlines.

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If anything, the ex-president has become more unstable following his ouster from office—assuming such a thing is possible—with Trump issuing various bizarre proclamations from Mar-a-Lago in his continued attempts to prove he won the 2020 elections and his supporters trying to form a de facto white supremacist caucus in Congress. It’s hard to see an Oversight Board decision in favor of Trump that isn’t mostly vague, intellectually ponderous platitudes and blather about free speech divorced from what will actually happen if he’s allowed to return, and it’d set a bad precedent at a time the company has allowed other foreign leaders to act with near impunity to stir up far worse actions abroad. There will be real-life consequences if Trump is allowed to once again try to spread conspiracy theories and incite violence on Facebook.

It may be possible to overstate the impact of whatever the Oversight Board decides on Wednesday. Because it’s so heavily loaded with journalists and political elites, Twitter allowed Trump to far more easily influence the news cycle in just a few seconds, and his reach on other sites may just not be as effective. With or without Trump directly posting to Facebook, it still serves as the nerve center of the vast right-wing online ecosystem that will survive regardless of their figurehead. While a permanent ban would be a major inconvenience, it wouldn’t do much to hobble Trump proxies in the conservative mass media, who could simply amplify what he says elsewhere. It also will do little to rein in other far-right politicians aiming to emulate his success, especially if they manage to be slightly more discerning about what they post.

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There’s also the off chance that letting Trump off the Facebook leash again will backfire for both him and the rest of the GOP by helping him fuel its crazed spiral into even more niche, extreme positions, if you’re into four-dimensional Russian roulette or something.

According to the New York Times, Trump issued a statement on Monday giving a clear indication of what he’ll post if the Oversight Board takes his side: “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” Come on, guys, this isn’t hard.

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Read Facebook’s Internal Report on How Badly It Screwed Up Stopping ‘Stop the Steal’

Riot police clash with pro-Trump rioters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Riot police clash with pro-Trump rioters outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP (Getty Images)

BuzzFeed has posted the entirety of internal Facebook documents outlining in detail the results of the company’s investigation into its role in the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, during and after which at least five people died.

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The report, which was first reported in detail by BuzzFeed last week, found that Facebook played a key role in the explosive growth of the “Stop the Steal” movement, a group of diehard Donald Trump supporters that rallied around the ex-president’s conspiracy theories about his 2020 election loss. Members of the movement, alongside overlapping groups such as QAnon, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the vote.

The authors assessed that Facebook failed to recognize that groups such as Stop the Steal and the Patriot Party were part of an “adversarial harmful movement” and thus only moderated associated Groups and Pages in a “piecemeal” fashion. Facebook also conceded that its focus on fake and “inauthentic” activity blinded it to harm being organized on the site by people under their real identities. The lack of a coordinated, sitewide response came despite months of warnings from Facebook staff that Groups on the site were becoming vehicles for extremism.

According to BuzzFeed, the authors of the report uploaded it to Facebook’s internal message boards last month, where it was widely circulated among and read by staff. But after BuzzFeed’s report last week, Facebook yanked it from circulation with the official explanation the authors “never intended to publish this as a final document to the whole company” and had only “inadvertently” made it accessible to employees outside a working group on the issue.

So BuzzFeed posted the whole report on Monday. It describes confusion at the company whether the Stop the Steal circus “was a coordinated effort to delegitimize the election, or whether it was protected free expression by users who were afraid and confused and deserved our empathy.” The first Stop the Steal group created on the night of the election contained “high levels of hate and violence and incitement (VNI) in the comments,” the authors wrote that it “wasn’t until later that it became clear just how much of a focal point the catchphrase would be, and that they would serve as a rallying point around which a movement of violent election delegitimization could coalesce.” By the time Facebook got around to deleting that first group on Nov. 5, BuzzFeed wrote, it had swollen to 300,000 members and spawned innumerable copycats.

The report noted evidence that white supremacists, hate groups, and militias were involved in coordinating the Stop the Steal effort both on and off Facebook. It also found that a relatively small number of people were clearly trying to supercharge the movement by flooding the site with invites to related Groups, a tactic known as growth hacking: “30% of invites came from just 0.3% of inviters,” according to the report, and many of these “super-inviters” were admins on other related Groups, clearly indicating coordination between them.

“We were not able to act on simple objects like posts and comments because they individually tended not to violate, even if they were surrounded by hate, violence, and misinformation,” the report added. “After the Capitol Insurrection and a wave of Storm the Capitol events across the country, we realized that the individual delegitimizing Groups, Pages, and slogans did constitute a cohesive movement.”

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Facebook implemented limits on the number of invites that individual users could send, but the report notes this was clearly ineffective and Groups were “regardless able to grow substantially.” Furthermore, there were high levels of interaction between the users engaging with Stop the Steal content the most, adding to the evidence. These amplifiers posted significantly more hate speech and threats of violence than even the rest of the Stop the Steal movement, driving it to more extremes.

The Facebook report also name-drops specific far-right activists that Facebook failed to rein in, such as Ali Alexander, one of the main organizers of the rally preceding the failed insurrection who has a long history of working with extremists such as the neo-fascist Proud Boys. It also mentioned the Kremer sisters, who run the event’s official host Women for America First and one of whose names appeared on the rally permits.

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“The terms Stop the Steal and Patriot Party were amplified both on platform and off,” the report states. “Ali Alexander and the Kremer sisters repeated slogans at rallies, and spread them through super Groups like Women4Trump and Latinos for Trump. The Kremer Sisters were admins of both Women4Trump, and the original Stop the Steal Group. After January 6th, Amy Kremer confirmed on platform that she was an organizer for the Stop the Steal rally that precipitated the Capitol Insurrection.”

“Ali Alexander worked on and off platform, using media appearances and celebrity endorsements,” it continued. “We also observed him formally organizing with others to spread the term, including with other users who had ties to militias. He was able to elude detection and enforcement with careful selection of words, and by relying on disappearing stories.”

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The authors wrote in their key findings that Facebook’s “early focus on individual violations made us miss the harm in the broader network,” messy moderation tools made it hard to count how many strikes each Group was racking up, and the company has “little policy around coordinated authentic harm.”

Joan Donovan, the research director of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, told BuzzFeed that Facebook appeared to have been caught off guard because it was more focused on the type of hoaxes, spam, and interference operations that it bungled during the 2016 elections.

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“In 2016, you had to engineer lots of fake engagement and stories because the networks were not mature enough,” Donovan said. “It’s only after you have four years of MAGA and the Trump caravan and the anti-vaxxers meeting up with the militia groups during the pandemic that you start to see these networks become agile, extensible, and adaptable to the moment.”

“…There is something about the way Facebook organizes groups that leads to massive public events,” Donovan added. “And when they’re organized on the basis of misinformation, hate, incitement, and harassment, we get very violent outcomes.”

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Read the whole report at BuzzFeed here.

India Cracks Down on Social Media Posts Criticizing Its Pandemic Response Amid Brutal Second Wave

Illustration for article titled India Cracks Down on Social Media Posts Criticizing Its Pandemic Response Amid Brutal Second Wave

Photo: Denis Charlet (Getty Images)

India’s government reportedly ordered Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to censor dozens of posts criticizing the administration’s response to the pandemic, arguing that they were misleading or could hinder emergency response efforts. The crackdown comes amid an unprecedented surge in covid-19 cases and deaths in India as a second coronavirus wave hits the nation with a force some health officials have likened to a “tsunami.”

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Following reports from TechCrunch and Indian news site MediaNama, Indian officials confirmed with the New York Times on Sunday that the government ordered Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to take down roughly 100 posts, some of which included criticism from politicians and calls for India’s prime minister to resign. India’s government argued that these posts used images that were taken out of context and could potentially incite panic or interfere with its response to the pandemic, according to the Times.

Twitter took down several tweets in response to a legal request from the Indian government, a company spokesperson confirmed with Gizmodo on Sunday. Two such legal requests were published on Lumen, a Harvard University project that tracks government takedown notices across the globe. The first, dated April 22, lists 32 tweets, while the second, dated April 23, lists 21 tweets, both invoking the Information Technology Act of 2000 without going into further detail. Among the censored accounts include a West Bengal state minister, a sitting member of India’s Parliament, and multiple members of India’s film industry.

“When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law,” a Twitter spokesperson told Gizmodo in an emailed statement. “If the content violates Twitter’s rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only.”

The spokesperson added that Twitter notified the affected accounts to let them know it was withholding their content in response to a legal request from India’s government.

Facebook, which also owns Instagram, did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but we’ll be sure to update this blog when they do.

Covid-19 cases have skyrocketed across India in recent weeks. On Saturday, India reported 349,691 new cases, making it the fourth consecutive day that the nation set a world record for daily infections during the pandemic, CNN reports. With 2,767 fatalities reported in the last 24 hours, India has also beaten its record for its highest daily death toll nine days in a row. Over 1 million new cases have been logged in the past three days, bringing the nation’s total to nearly 17 million, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins.

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