Mark Zuckerberg denies senator’s plea to remove Steve Bannon for threatening to behead Fauci and Wray

“No.  … That’s not what our policies suggest that we should do,” Mr Zuckerberg said, after Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut asked whether Mr Bannon should be banned from Facebook for his comments.

Mr Blumenthal is one of several Democrats who sought to use Tuesday’s Senate hearing with Mr Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to advocate for stronger self-censoring among the tech giants to root out hate speech and politically violent rhetoric.

Mr Zuckerberg and Mr Dorsey appeared alongside Google CEO Sundar Pichai at a separate hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee in late October. 

“How many times is Steve Bannon allowed to call for the murder of public officials before Facebook suspends his account?” Mr Blumenthal asked Mr Zuckerberg on Tuesday.

Mr Zuckerberg explained that while Facebook has a zero-tolerance policy for accounts that post content characterised by terrorist activity or child exploitation and removes such accounts permanently, the social media company does not immediately remove accounts that post content such as the video from Mr Bannon calling for US public officials’ heads on pikes.

Facebook purged its site of Mr Bannon’s video, and his account could be subject to permanent removal if he persists in posting content that violates Facebook’s rules against speech that may incite violence.

Mr Bannon – Mr Trump’s former chief political strategist at the White House and the ex-executive chairman of Breitbart News – argued in a video that Mr Wray and Dr Fauci, the foremost infectious disease expert in the US, should be beheaded for disloyalty to Mr Trump.

“I'd put the heads on pikes. Right. I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats: you either get with the programme or you are gone,” Mr Bannon said in the video.

“That’s how you won the revolution. No one wants to talk about it. The revolution wasn’t some sort of garden party, right? It was a civil war. It was a civil war,” he said.

The video was a simulcast of Mr Bannon’s political podcast, The War Room.

Twitter subsequently suspended the podcast’s account.

The response to Mr Bannon’s comments about Dr Fauci and Mr Wray have varied, though they have nearly all been negative.

Dr Fauci called them “really kind of unusual” and said the remarks were “not the kind of thing you think about when you’re going through medical school to become a physician”.

The lawyers representing Mr Bannon in his pending case on charges of defrauding donors to a crowdfunded border wall campaign have quit his legal team since the beheading comments.

Tuesday’s hearing was the Senate’s second in three weeks ostensibly examining “Section 230”, a clause in the 1996 Communications Decency Act that social media and tech giants have used over and over again in court to protect themselves from lawsuits stemming from inflammatory content users have posted on their platforms.

Democrats and Republicans are both eager to alter Section 230, but for drastically different reasons.

Liberals have pressured companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and others to adopt stricter moderation rules to root out hate speech and other forms of incitement to violence. Democratic lawmakers have even proposed changes to Section 230 to make social media companies legally responsible for content posted on their platforms.

Republicans, on the other hand, have long accused these same social media giants of anti-conservative bias, alleging that their attempts to self-censor users’ posts have disproportionately targeted conservative voices.

Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah attacked Facebook on Tuesday for slapping a warning label on one of his recent posts concerning alleged voter fraud in the 2020 election. Despite Republicans and the Trump campaign filing dozens of lawsuits in recent weeks, they have not provided any evidence of a widespread conspiracy to support their claims that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Mr Trump.

Facebook’s decision to flag his recent post about election fraud “sounds more like state-run media announcing the party line, rather than a neutral company as it purports to be”, Mr Lee said at Tuesday’s hearing.

“This kind of editorialising insulates people from the truth and it insinuates that anyone concerned about voter fraud must be crazy. … These concerns may be out of the mainstream in Palo Alto, but they’re not out of the mainstream in the rest of America,” he said.

The vast majority of state and federal judges who have heard the GOP’s cases alleging voter fraud have quickly dismissed them.