October 18, 2021

DeSantis Demands Answers from Facebook

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DeSantis Demands Answers from Facebook

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JUNE 07: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives away a pen after holding a bill signing ceremony at the Florida National Guard Robert A. Ballard Armory on June 07, 2021 in Miami, Florida. The governor signed the bills to combat foreign influence and corporate espionage in Florida from governments like China. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Following The Wall Street Journal’s scathing expose of Facebook’s internal affairs, Governor Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida has asked his secretary of state to investigate Facebook regarding its “XCheck”  program and “alleged election interference.” It was intended to be a method of quality control, but it turned into a shield for 5.8 million high-profile users.

The Whitelist

In this photo illustration the Facebook logo seen displayed

(Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Facebook Files, published by the WSJ, included that the social media company has a list of politicians, government officials, professional athletes, celebrities, and other prominent people. Those on what has been labeled the “whitelist” did not have their content vetted, flagged, or taken down by the typical monitors, or artificial intelligence robots operating according to Facebook’s rules and regulations. Instead, their posts were independently monitored by specially trained staff members.

Since not all politicians are included on the whitelist, those who were had an advantage over their challengers, according to The Journal’s findings. The program has been terminated; however, Facebook did admit to it being in place during the 2020 election cycle. The Wall Street Journal found most discrepancies in disadvantages were between state and local races, suggesting Facebook can be accused of favoritism.

Not His First Rodeo

This is not DeSantis’s first joust with big tech. In July, the governor signed a bill that issues fines to social media companies for “de-platforming” or banning political candidates in the state of Florida. The bill also provides Floridians the opportunity to sue social media companies if their accounts are unfairly suspended. The governor refers to social media platforms as “Orwellian,” censoring political narratives they disagree with. Since its passage, the new social media law has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.

In his letter to Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, he requested her office “use all legal means to uncover any such violations, including but not limited to, issuing subpoenas, conducting witness interviews, reviewing all available information and consulting with law enforcement.” Governor DeSantis did not specify in the letter which election laws he suspects were violated. His law, established in July, came into effect after XCheck was disbanded, so its legal application to interference in the 2020 election is unclear. Facebook’s communication office did not immediately respond to DeSantis’ letter.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Holds News Conference In Miami

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

In his press release, DeSantis confidently said if The Wall Street Journal’s reports are true, Facebook created “a privileged class of speakers and has empowered them to manipulate our elections with impunity.”

Defending Their Mistakes

Facebook adamantly defended its XCheck program arguing it was “designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies in content that could require more understanding.” Monika Bickert, vice president of global policy management, said the company wants “to make clear that we remove content from Facebook, no matter who posts it, when it violates our standards. There are no special protections for any group – whether on the right or the left.” Facebook also said its teams have consistently made efforts to “make sure both incumbents and challengers in federal and non-federal races received cross-check protections.”

Company officials admitted they know the program needs to improve to be reinstated and their monitorization “isn’t perfect.” They have invested in a new team dedicated to working to address the issues they have identified.

Upcoming Election Implications

Speculation regarding Gov. DeSantis throwing his hat in the ring for the presidential election in 2024 has been a consistent news story so far this year, even though DeSantis has time and again denied that he will run. This call for an investigation into Facebook adds fuel to the fire DeSantis has been throwing at Big Tech and social media conglomerates. The censorship war is ongoing and Ron DeSantis could be the face of the fight in 2024.

~ Read more from Keelin Ferris.

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