With help from Cristiano Lima, Leah Nylen and John Hendel
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— Penny for your (thousands, millions of) thoughts: The independent Facebook oversight board is urging Americans to weigh in on the platform’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump — and the board’s looming decision on the matter could have worldwide ramifications.
— Technocracy on Wall Street: Social media may be under fire in Washington, but the GameStop mania has many lawmakers — including tech critics — praising platforms for making the stock market more democratic.
— Makan’s mic drop: As recently departed DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim left office, he installed a conservative former FCC chief economist in a top post in the Biden Justice Department.
YOU DID IT, TECHLINGS: IT’S FRIDAY! WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. I’m your host, Alexandra Levine.
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TODAY: FB OVERSIGHT BOARD WELCOMES PUBLIC COMMENT ON TRUMP CASE — Facebook’s oversight board will begin accepting input from the public today on its highest-profile case to date: Trump’s indefinite suspension. The group’s deliberation process is already drawing major interest from across the political landscape, including from many eager to see how it might shape the social media giant’s approach to global leaders’ posts going forward. (A board decision on the Trump ban is expected to be announced by April.)
— Yes, expect the American public to have strong opinions about this: New data from the Pew Research Center found that U.S. adults are split roughly 60-40 over whether social media platforms did the right thing by banning Trump in the wake of the Capitol riot. The analysis, conducted over several days around the inauguration, not surprisingly found Americans to be split along party lines. Will you be weighing in? Let us know.
— More cases inbound: The oversight board also plans to announce today the next set of Facebook cases it will take on. More than 150,000 have already been appealed to the independent body, and in the coming months, the board’s jurisdiction will expand to include content that Facebook has kept on the platform, in addition to content it has taken down. (To date, the board has been reviewing only the latter.)
Thursday marked the board’s first round of rulings on a range of Facebook content decisions; the board was at odds with the company in four of the five cases. “We don’t think [Facebook] got it right,” said board co-chair Helle Thorning Schmidt, the former Danish prime minister. Facebook announced it has already restored the previously removed content.
— The view from outside: The so-called (and unofficial) Real Facebook Oversight Board — a self-assembled group of prominent Facebook critics — skewered the (official) board’s first determinations and described the body as “a distraction from the very serious issues that Facebook is failing to address.” Read more in this TIME opinion piece from Facebook investor-turned-critic Roger McNamee and Rappler co-founder Maria Ressa.
— But not all outside tech policy voices were disappointed in the first round of results. “The decision to overturn 4 of the 5 cases is a good sign for those concerned that the Oversight Board would merely rubber stamp Facebook’s decisions, rather than be an independent body,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s civil liberties director, David Greene, who commended the board’s thorough consideration. But it’s unclear how the board’s small set of decisions will shape moderation of an enormous volume of Facebook content, and whether it will reveal more fundamental issues with that operation, he added.
SILICON VALLEY CONGRESSMAN WEIGHS IN ON GAMESTOP MESS — As Wall Street, and some in the government, looked angrily on social media for wreaking havoc on the markets over the last 48 hours — a saga that raises all sorts of content moderation and self-regulation questions — Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna tipped his hat to tech platforms for democratizing trading. (Lookin’ at you, Reddit.) In a statement Thursday speaking out against hedge fund billionaires and wealth inequality in the U.S., Khanna commended tech for leveling the playing field when “the cards are stacked against the little guy.”
— “This entire episode has demonstrated the power of technology to democratize access to American financial institutions, ultimately giving far more people a say in our economic structures,” Khanna said. “We need more regulation and equality in the markets.”
— Who else was cheering for Redditors? Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Donald Trump Jr. — in a delightfully unusual meeting of the minds, my colleague Kellie Mejdrich reports.
FORMER FCC CHIEF ECONOMIST JOINS DOJ ANTITRUST — Babette Boliek, who served as chief economist at the FCC under former Republican Chair Ajit Pai, has joined the Justice Department’s antitrust division as deputy assistant attorney general for economics. A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Boliek’s hiring was one of Delrahim’s last acts as assistant attorney general for antitrust. Both Boliek and Delrahim taught at Pepperdine Law in Malibu, Calif. Boliek is expected to hold the position through June, at which point President Joe Biden’s antitrust AAG will likely be in place to pick a replacement for the top economics role.
JOCKEYING TO SHAPE BIDEN’S BROADBAND VISION HEATS UP — As Biden fills out his top administration posts and his digital agenda, advocates are rushing forward with ideas for just how his team and FCC should proceed, touting structural reforms and emphasizing equity concerns. And several recommendations are for potential permanent agency chairs, a key post that Biden hasn’t yet settled on. What we’re seeing and hearing:
— The National Urban League’s new broadband plan would call on the FCC and executive branch to better measure issues of digital equity, overhaul the Lifeline low-income subsidy program and create a new “Office of Digital Equity” to increase broadband adoption. Edward “Smitty” Smith, a telecom lawyer on the Biden transition’s FCC review team, helped spearhead the effort, along with other former FCC officials including Blair Levin. The league’s resident telecom expert Clint Odom is a former staffer for Vice President Kamala Harris.
— Gigi Sohn, a former Obama-era FCC adviser, called Thursday for better use of broadband data to guide more precise policy-making. “The US can’t repeat the mistakes of the past — investing billions of dollars in the wrong places using technologies that will become obsolete,” she warned.
— Geoffrey Starks, the FCC’s junior Democratic commissioner who some want to see made permanent chair, put those equity concerns front-and-center during his own speech Tuesday at State of the Net: “When we focus on broadband in America,” he said, “we must focus on the smoldering front that communities of color constitute in our battle against internet inequality.”
— And acting FCC chief Jessica Rosenworcel, also a popular bet for the permanent job, is using her new post to highlight the agency’s pandemic countermeasures, with staff presentations during the Feb. 17 meeting on the Emergency Broadband Benefit subsidy program and expanded telehealth effort for which Congress recently slated money. She’ll hold a roundtable Feb. 12 on how best to structure the emergency benefit.
SO… WHEN’S THAT FCC NOM COMING, MR. PRESIDENT? — More than 30 left-leaning groups say Biden shouldn’t delay in nominating a third Democrat to the five-member panel (depending on whether he designates Rosenworcel as his permanent chair, this could be a nomination for chair or commissioner). The agency needs three Democrats to form a tie-breaking majority and advance more contentious agenda items like net neutrality.
LISTEN UP: ‘THE FUTURE THIS WEEK’ BY POLITICO’S NANCY SCOLA — Want an easy way to catch up on tech news via your smart speaker? Join Nancy as she gives you three- to five-minute recaps of this week’s tech news, plus fresh insights. This week: Congress’s scramble to combat online conspiracies, and why the threat is coming from inside the House.
Madeleine V. Findley, a former deputy bureau chief and associate general counsel at the FCC and in-house privacy counsel, has joined Jenner & Block as a partner in the firm’s D.C. office. … Davis Lee, former senior vice president at Dell, was named a senior advisor for Eyesafe, a company specializing in low blue light consumer tech. … The National Association of Broadcasters formed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee; here are the inaugural members. … The Lincoln Network created a new program at the intersection of technology, criminal justice and civil liberties; former DOJ prosecutor Arthur Rizer is joining Lincoln’s policy team to lead it.
Facebook-Apple feud about to hit a fever pitch: “Facebook for months has been preparing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple that would allege the iPhone-maker abused its power in the smartphone market,” The Information reports.
And ICYMI: Apple CEO Tim Cook took a swing at social media companies (read: Facebook) during remarks at a privacy conference Thursday, POLITICO reports.
Don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn ya: “The GameStop reckoning was a long time coming,” NYT reports.
What city is next on the list for a facial recognition ban? WIRED makes the case.
Innovation or exploitation? “Health-tech startups jump into the Covid-19 vaccine rollout,” via WSJ.
Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).