Stanford weighs in on Trump's indefinite Facebook ban

Start your week off right, with a round-up of important news from Stanford Politics.

Facebook Oversight Board Rules Trump Ban Was Reasonable, Punts on Indefinite Ban

This past Wednesday, Facebook’s Oversight Board ruled that the company’s suspension of President Trump’s account following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was justified. The 20-member board was created by Facebook in 2019 to review the company’s decisions regarding the types of content permitted on its platform, following several years of contentious public debates over the role of social media companies in policing violent or misinformative content. According to the recent report, in the run up to the violence, “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… At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm.” The opinion gave Facebook six months to decide if the former president will be permanently banned, stating that the company’s current content moderation policies do not justify a permanent suspension. The report strongly criticized the lack of consistency and clarity in the social media giant’s content policies and stated that the president can only be permanently suspended if his speech is found to violate a set of objectively enforceable standards. The ruling has reignited partisan rancor surrounding the relationship between tech companies, misinformation, and freedom of speech. Democrats are largely pushing for the president’s continued suspension, while Republicans are criticizing social media companies for curtailing free speech, with political motivations. According to Oversight Board Co-Chairman Michael McConnell, a Stanford Law School professor, “When you do not have clarity, consistency and transparency, there’s no way to know,” whether politics played a role in Facebook’s actions. “This is not the only case in which Facebook has engaged in ad hockery.” According to Nate Persily, another Stanford Law professor, “This case has dramatic implications for the future of speech online because the public and other platforms are looking at how the oversight board will handle what is a difficult controversy that will arise again around the world.” Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram, owned by Facebook, also banned President Trump from their platforms following Jan. 6, setting the stage for an industry-wide reckoning over content moderation and speech issues.

The New India-China Relationship

In May of 2020, India and China clashed and fired live ammunition over their shared border for the first time in more than 45 years. One year later, Research Scholar at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, FSI, Arzan Tarapore, comments on the profound impact this experience has had on India’s relationship with China. Destroying decades of warming relations between the two most populous nations in the world, this crisis has decisively turned public opinion in India against China. In the Indian government as well as officials describing the change to a “more adversarial, antagonistic and contentious” relationship. While many experts had theorized about India pursuing an alliance with the United States, this proved to be unfounded. However, both nations have made significant investments in improving infrastructure along border regions to facilitate the movement of additional troops and supplies in the event of any future crisis. In addition, both governments have committed to increasing the number of soldiers garrisoned in these regions with Indian commanders publicly reducing the restrictions they place on their soldiers’ use of firearms. Tarapore makes note that, while these projects are expensive, they consume a disproportionate amount of defense spending relative to their Chinese counterparts. Moreover, Tarapore emphasizes that, if India focuses its efforts on strengthening its border with China then it risks surrendering its historical dominance of the Indian ocean to a rapidly expanding Chinese navy.

A Change in US Nuclear Doctrine

While the United States has claimed it fully accepts that its nuclear arsenal and its operations are subject to International Humanitarian Law, IHL, it has sustained an enduring ambiguity concerning some of the law’s key provisions. Senior Fellow at FSI Scott Sagan points out that the US, as recently as 25 years ago, claimed that it retained the right to “belligerent reprisal,” meaning that if the US was attacked in a manner that violated IHL then it had the right to violate the same provisions in its retaliatory strike. The logic behind this theory rests on the assumption that the threat of such a retaliatory strike would dissuade aggressors from attacking in this manner. However, the IHL does allow the targeting of military and political leadership along with a host of other options that would impose extensive costs on any attacking force. Moreover, Dr. Sagan highlights the difficulty with which military personnel would have in undertaking such a morally dubious command. Therefore, Sagan advises the United States to take a moral stand on this issue and formally announce that the United States will not target civilians under any circumstances.

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About the Authors

Noah Howard ‘22 is pursuing majors in Economics and International Relations with a minor in Iranian Studies. Living in Washington D.C., he is currently writing a thesis about the role of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in Iranian Politics.

Jackson Vachal ‘22 is pursuing majors in Political Science and Philosophy, with a focus on democratic theory. A San Francisco native, he is interested in social entrepreneurship and

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