Facebook chooses money over democracy.
January 27, 2023
With several major stories competing for attention on Thursday, perhaps the most consequential is the decision of Meta to re-admit Trump to its social media platforms—Facebook and Instagram. I know, I know. I, too, am sick of the recent focus on social media inflicted on us by Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. But consider for a moment that the last time Trump was an active user of Twitter and Facebook, he used those platforms to plot a coup and incite an insurrection. Every indication suggests that he will do so again—despite the baseless assertion by Meta’s President for Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, to the contrary.
Recall that Facebook and Twitter suspended Trump from their platforms in the aftermath of the January 6th insurrection, rightly concluding that Trump had used those platforms to incite violence—a violation of their terms of service. Twitter imposed an indefinite ban (now lifted), but Facebook imposed a ban with a two-year review period.
In lifting the Facebook ban, Clegg gave two reasons. First, he noted that Trump is a candidate for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination. Second, Clegg claimed
Our determination is that the risk [of inciting violence] has sufficiently receded, and that we should therefore adhere to the two-year timeline we set out.
Both reasons are false, intentionally so. Why would Meta lie about its reasons for allowing Trump back on its platforms? Money. Trump will raise and spend tens of millions of dollars on social media advertising in the GOP primary. Meta does not want to miss the opportunity to capture its share of Trump’s social media spending, so it reinstated him to the platforms. In short, Meta is more concerned about increasing revenue than increasing the risk of political violence. But Nick Clegg could not admit that ugly fact to the media.
Clegg’s first reason for reinstating Trump—that he is a candidate for the presidency—is misleading. By omitting qualifiers that are necessary to accurately describe Trump’s candidacy, Clegg is misrepresenting the facts by omission. Trump is not merely a candidate for the presidency.
He is a candidate for the presidency who incited an insurrection that killed five people.
He is a candidate for the presidency who attempted a coup — the first in our nation's history.
He is a candidate for the presidency who did nothing for hours as a violent mob ransacked our nation's Capitol.
He is a candidate for the presidency who praised the insurrectionists after they had done their worst and assured them that “We love you.”
He is a candidate for the presidency who has shown not an iota of regret, not a glimmer of remorse, not a moment of sympathy for those killed or left physically and emotionally scarred by the violence he summoned.
Nick Clegg said none of those things. He said only that Trump is a candidate for the presidency, implying that he, like any other candidate for the presidency, is entitled to a place in the public square. He is not. He is unfit to engage in public discourse and should be denied a platform for the rest of his life.
Clegg’s second reason is equally dishonest. Clegg claims that the “risk of violence has receded.” Not true. If Clegg bothered to read Trump’s posts on Truth Social over the last several months, he would discover that the precipitating cause of violence on January 6th—Trump’s hateful speech—has not “receded.” It has continued unabated. It is that speech that creates the “risk” of violence—and is that speech that should be forever barred from Facebook and Instagram. See The Hill, Trump’s typical social posts could push up against Meta’s rules.
Per The Hill,
In the last week alone, Trump has called for the arrest of a journalist and publisher who reported a leaked Supreme Court opinion draft; levied racist attacks against Elaine Chao, who is married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and claimed the 2020 election was stolen.
Earlier this month, he repeated a debunked conspiracy implicating Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman, who testified before Congress last year that she’s endured harassment because of such claims.
In September, he reposted an image of himself wearing a “Q” lapel pin and the words “The Storm is Coming,” both direct nods to QAnon.
What can we do to protest Meta’s decision? Individual decisions about the continued use of Facebook and Instagram are reasonable but likely ineffective in the short term. Meta feels free to re-platform Trump because it rightly believes it is immune from the consequences of Trump’s hate speech. Meta is probably correct in that belief because of a federal law that insulates social media platforms for liability for speech by their users. 47 USC § 230.
Eliminating the protections of Section 230 is hotly contested and opposed by many responsible organizations. See Electronic Frontier Foundation. But at the moment, Meta doesn’t care about further damage Trump might inflict on our democracy. It doesn’t have to. Congress said so. That isn’t going to change until Congress says differently. Tell your representative and senator how your feel about this issue. As always, check out Jessica Craven’s Chop Wood, Carry Water for contact information for your members of Congress.
The economy is stable, to the dismay of Fox News.
In the “world according to Republicans,” the US is in an economic crisis. No one bothered to tell the economy, which is holding its own despite high (but decreasing) inflation. See CBS News, Economic growth remains solid, shrugging off recession fears. Per CBS News,
The U.S. economy ended last year on a solid footing despite the pressure of high interest rates and widespread fears of a looming recession.
The resilience of the U.S. job market has been a major surprise. Last year, employers added 4.5 million jobs, second only to the 6.7 million that were added in 2021 in government records going back to 1940. And last month's unemployment rate, 3.5%, matched a 53-year low.
See also, The Hill, Resilient US economy grows 2.1 percent in 2022:
The U.S. economy powered through high inflation, rising interest rates and an energy shock to grow at a solid pace over the course of 2022, according to data released Thursday by the Commerce Department. [¶].
Fox News was unhappy with the better-than-expected economic report, leading with this headline: GDP report reveals ominous Great Depression warning sign not seen since 1932.
The classified documents story finally loses steam in the media.
And just like that, no one cares about Biden’s discovery of classified documents at his residence and offices. Why? Because the National Archives has rightly concluded that it is appropriate to ask all past presidents and vice presidents to search for classified documents in their possession. If (as expected), they find such documents, they will return them voluntarily to the National Archives. That will return the story to its appropriate state, one in which Trump is the clear outlier, i.e., the only person who attempted to obstruct justice by concealing his possession of classified documents. See Talking Points Memo, National Archives Asks Past Presidents and VPs To Check If They Have Any Classified Documents.
More trouble for Trump’s attorneys.
The quickest way for an attorney to find himself in deep trouble is to accept representation of Donald Trump. The two most recent attorneys to learn that lesson the hard way are John Eastman and John Durham.
Eastman wrote the infamous “coup memo” that laid out Trump’s plan for subverting the count of electoral ballots on January 6th. Eastman promoted that plan despite clear evidence that he understood the legal arguments were baseless. The California State Bar opened a disciplinary investigation and has now begun a proceeding to revoke Eastman’s California law license. See Talking Points Memo, California Bar Moves To Nix Eastman’s Attorney License. Per TPM,
The chief trial counsel of the California bar slapped Eastman with eleven counts of violating attorney ethics rules during the effort. They include eight counts of moral turpitude, two counts of trying to mislead a court, and one count of failing to support the laws and Constitution of the United States.
For those of us frustrated with the pace of the DOJ’s investigation into the ringleaders of the coup, the disciplinary action by the California State Bar is a welcome development. It serves both to punish Eastman for his involvement in the coup and stands as a stark warning to future coup plotters that seeking to undermine the Constitution will result in disbarment, at least.
In a similar vein is a devastating report in the New York Times about the unraveling of the investigation by special counsel John Durham, who was appointed by Bill Barr to “investigate the investigators” who looked for connections between Trump and Russia in the 2016 election. Before being appointed as special counsel, Durham had a reputation as a respectable, fair prosecutor. No more. As the report in the Times makes clear, he lost his moral compass after being appointed special counsel and initiated dubious prosecutions that resulted in easy acquittals for the defendants. Three of his staff attorneys quit in protest over questionable actions he took in the investigation. For details, see NYTimes, Barr Pressed Durham to Find Flaws in the Trump-Russia Investigation.
Durham sacrificed a stellar reputation for Trump, who will return the favor by berating Durham as “weak,” “incompetent,” and “a loser.” There is a lesson in Durham’s fate for every lawyer who believes that he or she can enhance their reputation by representing Trump.
Pope Francis calls on bishops to oppose the criminalization of homosexuality.
Homosexuality is a crime in dozens of countries in the world. The Catholic Church has bishops in most countries across the globe. Some conservative bishops support the laws that criminalize homosexuality because they (wrongly) believe that it is morally wrong. Pope Francis has just called on bishops across the world to cease their support for laws that criminalize homosexuality. See Slate, Pope Francis says homosexuality should be decriminalized in every country.
When I first saw the headlines for this story, I was disappointed because they made it sound like Pope Francis emphasized the “sinfulness of homosexuality.” But his comments evince a more tolerant and liberal attitude than some headline writers suggest. Pope Francis said,
Being homosexual is not a crime . . . but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime. It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another. And being homosexual is not a crime. It’s a human condition.
While I wish that Francis had gone further, he is dragging the church into the 21st century as best he can. And recognizing sexual orientation as “a human condition” is a step in the right direction to recognizing the dignity and humanity of LGBTQ people.
Adam Schiff announces that he is running for US Senator for California.
When I wrote yesterday’s laudatory article about Adam Schiff, I did not know that he would announce today that he is running for US Senator for California. If I had known that fact, I would have been more effusive in my praise of Schiff. There is no public servant in America that I admire more than Adam Schiff. I believe that the Senate will be a better institution, and America will be safer if Adam Schiff is elected as California’s next Senator.
My wife and I have already contributed to his Senate campaign. You can, too, at this link: Schiff for Senate. (Don’t feel compelled to use this link if you choose to contribute, but it is connected to this newsletter so that I can invite you to future events limited to readers of this newsletter who support Adam Schiff.)
There are already two other candidates in the race on the Democratic side—Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee. Some readers have noted in the Comments section that they plan to support either Porter or Lee. I respect and admire Katie Porter and Barbara Lee and fully understand those who want to support either candidate.
Over the last six years, I have learned (the hard way) that supporting Democratic candidates in contested primaries is a fraught undertaking for me as the author of this newsletter—and so I have generally stopped promoting Democratic candidates in primaries. But I need to be transparent about my support for Adam Schiff. I believe he has served our nation in a way that few others ever can or will. Indeed, the fact that Republicans have selected Adam for special punishment tells you how effective he has been in representing the Constitution and the rule of law.
In the end, we all want the same thing: For California to have two highly effective Senators who will be part of a Democratic majority in the Senate. Whatever we do, we must work together to ensure that outcome.
Thanks to the hundreds of you who sent condolences in response to my reflection on the loss of my dear friend. I was touched and humbled by the outpouring of support and love.
Sadly, I cannot close this newsletter without acknowledging the arrest of five police officers for the killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. Like commenting on frequent mass shootings, discussing the latest instance of an unarmed civilian killed by police officers is always a difficult task. The “body camera” video of the arrest will be released in the next day or so, but officials have prepared the public for a gruesome record of police brutality.
I will wait for additional information before commenting, except to say this: Whatever happened in the Memphis police department to lead to the death of Tyre Nichols, it did not start with the traffic stop or end with his death. When officers collectively ignore the law, their training, and their humanity, something is broken at a fundamental level.
One of my daughters brought home a boyfriend shortly before the Covid lockdown with the hint that they were “serious” and might be getting married sometime in the next year or so. Several weeks later, my future son-in-law was wearing a shirt that said, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” While I won’t say that a tee shirt “sealed the deal” for me, it certainly helped.
I will not pretend that whatever happened in Memphis could have been averted by an injunction to be kind. But in a world where we have limited control over events, we can choose to be kind to those around us. If only in a small circle of light surrounding our loved ones and us, kindness can reduce the likelihood of conflict and misunderstanding. If enough of us do that, somewhere, somehow, the cumulative heft of that kindness might allow a police officer and a motorist to walk away peacefully from circumstances that might have otherwise led to violence. Let’s control what we can control as we prepare ourselves for the release of information that will challenge us all.
I will send a short note Friday to open the Comments section. Otherwise, it has been a long and eventful week, starting with the birth of our third grandchild and the death of one of our closest friends. We are exhausted and need a break. Please take care of yourselves and those around you. Talk to you tomorrow.
I was born in 1956 and grew up as a white male in one of the nation's most "racist" cities - Memphis. I lived there during the infamous "garbage workers" strike (we didn't say sanitation back then), which culminated in the assassination of Martin Luther King. As I've gotten older I realize now that even though I thought of myself as far from being racially biased, I was raised, quite insidiously, to be a racist. I attended an all white high school in which our mascots were the "rebels," confederate flags flew in the hallways, "Dixie," was played at every athletic event (you get the picture) because Memphis was the last city in the south to integrate it's schools (in the 1970's!); "garbage men" often suffered serious injuries from dog bites because they were required to retrieve garbage from people's back yards, etc. A black neighborhood existed behind my favorite donut shop just a mile from my home that I didn't realize was there because there were no street lights, sidewalks, paved roads, etc. I came to the abrupt realization that I was not nearly as enlightened about race while, as a student at Memphis State University, I casually used a clearly racist term in front of another black student (Trent) who I thought of as a friend. We were discussing something that was broken and I said. "Well, we can n****r-rig it." He looked at me with a great deal of hurt (not anger) on his face and asked me to repeat what I said. Instead of apologizing I passed it off as a common turn-of-phrase, but I was deeply ashamed and I have never used that phrase (or any other with that word in it) again. Trent distanced himself from me from then on and I often think of him and hope he has since found better friends than I was. I owe him an apology and a large degree of gratitude because he forced me to see what I was and to question everything I thought about the situation there. Every time I return to Memphis, a city I truly love and still think of as home, I am forced to see that not much has changed. This week the rest of the nation got a dose of the reality that is Memphis - a beautiful city with a rich cultural heritage that is still deeply divided racially. I'm so sorry Trent.
Thank you Robert. And thank you William Carlton too. My friend who just recently moved to CT from living in Memphis for years and years said that there are still classified ads for Klan meetings. What?!! So awful.
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