Facebook board's Trump decision shows Big Tech is 'way too powerful': Elizabeth Warren


Progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Wednesday applauded the Facebook (FB) oversight board's decision to uphold the ban on former President Donald Trump from the site for the time being. But she warned that the move demonstrates the outsized power of the social media platform, and reaffirms her call to break up the nation's tech giants.

"I'm glad that Donald Trump is not going to be on Facebook," she tells Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer. "Suits me." 

"But part two is that this is just further demonstration that these giant tech companies are way, way, way too powerful," adds Warren, author of a new book entitled "Persist."

Facebook's oversight board, a panel appointed by the company to rule on content decisions, said on Wednesday that it was the right call to take Trump off the site the day after the attack on the Capitol that he was accused of inciting. But the board also said an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate," since the possibility of such a penalty goes unmentioned in Facebook's policies. 

The board called on Facebook to revisit the ban within six months, either making it permanent or setting a limit on its duration and providing a justification for its decision.

Facebook's 'Supreme Court'

Officials in both parties responded with criticism over the immense power of Facebook. Some Democrats like Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Warren agreed with the board's choice to uphold the ban for now, while Republicans opposed it. 

In response to the ruling, Trump called content moderation decisions of this type made by Facebook, Google (GOOG, GOOGL), and Twitter (TWTR) a "total disgrace." Meanwhile, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), a Trump ally, joined other Republicans in calling for the breakup of big tech. 

Warren, who called for dismantling big tech companies in 2019 during her presidential run, said the outsized power of Facebook is embodied in the unofficial name of its oversight board, dubbed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as its "Supreme Court."

"Listen to the arrogance of it," she says. "The name of the group that made the decision is called the Supreme Court. I missed the part where those people had hearings in front of Congress, and were voted on before they were made decision makers with this kind of authority."

"We need to break up these big tech companies," she adds. 

Facebook indefinitely suspended Trump's accounts on Facebook and Instagram on Jan. 7, the day after Trump supporters attacked the Capitol. Twitter (TWTR) permanently banned Trump on Jan. 8.

Later that month, Facebook sent the decision to its newly formed oversight board, a panel of judges made up of experts and public figures from around the globe. The board was given 90 days to decide on the ban.

Members of the board reportedly earn six-figure salaries paid by an independent trust seeded with $130 million by Facebook, raising questions about its true independence. Board members include academics, a Nobel Prize Laureate, journalists, and other civic leaders.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on "Influencers with Andy Serwer."

Warren spoke to Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

A former 2020 presidential candidate, Warren grew up in Oklahoma, dropped out of college to get married, and later became a law professor at Harvard University and the brain behind the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — all before she joined the Senate in 2013.

President Joe Biden has signaled that his administration will carry out an aggressive approach toward big tech, but it remains to be seen whether Biden will ultimately push to break up the tech giants altogether.

In recent months, Capitol Hill has intensified its scrutiny of four of America’s largest tech companies — Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Facebook, and Google — including the release in October of a scathing House antitrust report, which was formally approved by the House Judiciary Committee last month, setting the blueprint for potential regulatory measures.

Big tech companies have amassed too much economic and political power, which allows them to smother competition and help set advantageous rules, Warren said.

"They need to be broken up in order to keep commerce flourishing," she says, later noting: "They have too much influence and they pose a threat to our democracy."

"Time to enforce our antitrust laws," she says.

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