Congressman Matt Gaetz prompted a swift response from Facebook on Wednesday after grilling the tech giant’s head of policy, Monika Bickert, about the company’s lack of action toward a page that had prompted its followers to shoot Republicans.
Gaetz confronted Bickert during a U.S. House Judiciary Committee meeting titled “Facebook, Google and Twitter: Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media Giants.” The CD 1 Republican presented Bickert with two posts from the page, Milkshakes Against the Republican Party.
Bickert describes the first post: “It has a picture, and it says ‘parents in the waiting area for today’s school shooting in Florida’ and then it says, ‘You remember the shooting at the Republican baseball game? One of those should happen every week until those NRA’ — and then there are unpleasant words.”
Gaetz then prompted Bickert to read aloud another post.
“It says, ‘Dear crazed shooters, the GOP has frequent baseball practice. You really want to be remembered that’s how you do it. Signed, Americans tired of our politicians bathing in the blood of our innocent for a few million dollars from the terrorist organization NRA,’” Bickert said.
Gaetz then asked Bickert whether the posts violate Facebook rules.
“Any call for violence violates our terms of service,” Bickert answered.
Gaetz said a member of his staff provided the posts, who then contacted Facebook. He was told they did not violate the community standards set forth by the tech giant. According to Gaetz, executives at Facebook later removed the posts but did not delete the page itself.
Bickert told Gaetz that Facebook removes pages or groups after a “certain threshold of violations” has been met.
“If somebody posts an image of child sexual abuse imagery, their account will come down right away,” Bickert explained. “But there are different thresholds, depending on different violations.”
Responded Gaetz: “How many times does a page have to encourage violence against Republican members of Congress at baseball practice before you will ban the page?”
Bickert told Gaetz she would follow up with the post. The page is no longer active.
It’s unclear what other content had been published by Milkshakes Against the Republican Party. A preview available on Google suggests the page had 27,000 ‘likes’ before Facebook removed it from its platform.
“I am glad Facebook swiftly removed this offensive page; while I unconditionally support the First Amendment, inciting violence against others due to their political affiliation is not Constitutionally-protected speech,” Gaetz said in a prepared statement after the page had been removed.
Still, Gaetz isn’t completely satisfied. He feels the hearing opens doors for future questions on Facebook’s operation.
He added: “While removing this page was a small step forward to making Facebook a safer place, bigger questions remain. Is Facebook a content publisher, or is it a neutral forum? This distinction is not merely academic, as they are governed by different laws and different rules. If Facebook claims to be a neutral forum, it cannot continue to limit conservative content; if Facebook claims to be a publisher, it will lose its legal ‘immunity’ under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. They simply cannot have it both ways. My colleagues and I on the Judiciary Committee look forward to exploring this important distinction in the future.”