OPINION: Facebook and pandemic aid shifting in the wind

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Jun. 6—Facebook get's tough — or not

Facebook announced Friday it will no longer automatically give politicians a pass when they break the company's hate speech rules. Glory hallelujah! But it is so past time for this.

Imagine how much better off our country would be had the social media pariah taken action like this five or six years ago when political parasites like Donald Trump received deferential treatment and used their bully pulpits with complete Facebook impunity to say things that stoked hate and violence.

But should we trust this new policy? Time will tell.

Facebook also announced Friday that it suspended Trump from the platform for two years — and even then will reinstate him only "if the risk to public safety has receded."

This after, in January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg banned Trump from Facebook indefinitely following his comments in the wake of the Capitol insurrection. Last month, the Facebook Oversight Board decided to uphold the decision to suspend Trump. The board announced in May that Facebook needed to decide within six months how long Trump's suspension would last, or if it would be permanent.

Twitter, too, has banned Trump, and, from time to time, has suspended the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Mark Gaetz.

Sure some will argue that their messages and the deference given to politicians is merely free speech, but free speech doesn't' let you falsely yell fire in a crowded theater.

Trump not only led the way in incendiary speech, he opened the Facebook floodgates for people like Greene, Gaetz and even Marsha Blackburn, who tries to look prim as she writes or approves things on Facebook like: "Biden has caused countless illegal aliens to flood our borders, overwhelming our Border Patrol who have been able to apprehend just half a million of them. Now he is secretly transporting them throughout the United States."

And this: "It is absolutely unacceptable if the Biden Administration is facilitating a mass migration under cover of darkness without any input or oversight from Tennesseans and the affected communities."

Or when any one or another politician calls the transport of migrant children to safe shelters "facilitating human trafficking."

Which is it, folks: mass migration or human trafficking? Either way it sounds like "Fire!" in the theater to us.

We want to see Facebook's new policies stick.

Who benefits from pandemic relief?

Money, money, money. The question is who will see the benefit of coming state rounds of pandemic aid: Workers, employers or retail companies?

That question is about to get much more interesting in Tennessee and Georgia in coming weeks. Tennessee is proposing to dole out another $44.6 million to businesses that lost revenue due to the pandemic.

But Tennessee's Financial Accountability Stimulus Group plan immediately drew sharp backlash from critics who note that businesses will see an additional boost just as the state begins cutting off the extra payments to unemployed people.

Tennessee in early July is set to end the $300 weekly additional federal aid payments to jobless workers. That aid has already ended in Georgia. The governors of both states said the extra money had to stop to get people interested in finding work again.

But, go figure, we also just learned that the economy gained 559,000 jobs in May — so that's 559,000 people who were already interested in finding work again. The national unemployment rate has dropped 5.8%.

Already, the state has reported approving $73 million through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund for more than 3,200 businesses at an average payment of about $22,500. Now the state is proposing to raise the cap on payments per business from $30,000 to $100,000, saying more than 1,100 businesses have shown that they lost more than $30,000 during the pandemic.

"One of the things that we have worked really hard to do during the pandemic is to make sure that livelihoods are maintained, and the best way to do that is to make sure that the companies that Tennesseans work for are able to continue to operate," Republican Gov. Bill Lee said.

But Democratic state Sen. Heidi Campbell called it an "immoral double standard."

"In Gov. Lee's mind, $300 a week of federal assistance for a parent who lost their job is bad, but millions worth of federal assistance for business owners is good," said Campbell, a Nashville lawmaker.

Meanwhile, at least 29 states have transferred or proposed to use a total of more than $12 billion of federal coronavirus aid for their unemployment trust funds, according to an AP analysis. That includes $1.5 billion in Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp also has talked about using COVID aid to expand rural internet access in the state.

In this year's $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law, there is $350 billion of flexible aid for state and local governments, plus billions of dollars more for specific programs such as housing assistance. Unlike earlier aid, states this time have broad leeway to use the money to plug budget holes, invest in certain infrastructure or address the "negative economic impacts."

Locally, on June 9, you can hear from Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower about some of the aid money coming to Hamilton County. Mumpower will speak at 1 p.m. at the East Ridge City Hall and at 3:30 p.m. at the Hamilton County Courthouse.