Trump’s Facebook ban to stay in place, board rules

Facebook’s ban on former President Trump’s account will continue following a decision issued by its independent Oversight Board on Wednesday.

“The Board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible,” the board wrote in a statement.

While the board did uphold the suspension, it also found that the indefinite suspension was not appropriate.

The panel is requesting that Facebook review the decision to develop a “proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform.”

“Within six months of this decision, Facebook must reexamine the arbitrary penalty it imposed on January 7 and decide the appropriate penalty,” it said.

Oversight Board co-chair Michael McConnell told reporters Wednesday that there is a “substantial possibility” that whatever decision Facebook ultimately makes on Trump’s account would get kicked back to the panel.

Facebook executive Nick Clegg confirmed that Trump will remain suspended while the platform reviews the initial decision.

“We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate,” he wrote in a blog post.

Trump has been suspended from the platform since earlier this year on the basis of posts made surrounding the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The decision will leave Trump with limited ways to reach the public in the same way he did while president.

Trump has been issuing statements to the press via email, and while many of them have been shared on social media widely, his reach and dominance over news cycles has clearly diminished.

The former president launched a feature on his personal website Tuesday that essentially amounts to a blog that would let his dedicated fans disseminate short posts to the social media sites that have banned him.

Following a Facebook request, the board on Wednesday also made recommendations about content moderation policies pertaining to political leaders.

The board recommends Facebook “act quickly to enforce its rules” when “posts by influential users pose a high probability of imminent harm.” But the board noted that “context matters when assessing the probability and immense of harm,” rather than recommending Facebook apply all its content moderation policies equally across users regardless of status.

The board recommended more transparency from Facebook on its rules and enforcement, as well.

“Facebook should publicly explain the rules that it uses when it imposes account-level sanctions against influential users. These rules should ensure that when Facebook imposes a time-limited suspension on the account of an influential user to reduce the risk of significant harm, it will assess whether the risk has receded before the suspension ends,” the board wrote.

Unlike Facebook’s delayed decision on whether to reinstate Trump’s accounts, other social media platforms, including Twitter, permanently banned his accounts shortly after the posts about the insurrection.

The decision is the most consequential ruling the academics, former politicians, legal experts and journalists that make up the Oversight Board have weighed in on since Facebook launched the independent body.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to leave the fate of Trump’s Facebook account up to the Oversight Board drew widespread criticism from tech critics on the right and left.

“The real concern is not Facebook’s Trump decision but the way in which this powerful corporation is attempting to dodge accountability by engaging in covert influence schemes to shape public opinion and policy. This compromised Board is only going to make governance and effective regulation even more difficult,” said Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University.

The board has 20 members and will be doubled in size when fully staffed. Facebook made an initial commitment of $130 million for a trust to cover operation costs of the board, but the board has its own staff independent from the social media giant.

The Real Facebook Oversight Board, a group of tech advocates that formed after the launch of the Oversight Board, slammed Facebook’s referral of the decision to the Oversight Board as a “PR stunt.” 

“Obviously Donald Trump has violated Facebook’s terms of service repeatedly, incited hate, spread disinformation, fomented violence and been used as a model for other authoritarian leaders to abuse Facebook. He should be banned forever,” the group said in a statement before the ruling was issued.

“But do not let Facebook’s Oversight Board distract from the need to ensure real accountability for hate speech, election lies, disinformation and other harmful content,” they continued.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who led efforts to challenge election results ahead of the insurrection at the Capitol, also dismissed the oversight process.

“I don’t think any one company should have this kind of power over speech, over data, over news and information. Facebook has tremendous power. I have no idea, of course, what the decision of their Oversight Board will be and I think what it is is less important than the sheer amount of power they exercise and, of course, the total lack of transparency,” Hawley said during a Washington Post Live event on Tuesday.

But Adam Kovacevich, executive director of Chamber of Progress, a coalition representing tech giants including Facebook, said the Oversight Board process allowed more voices to weigh in on the decision.

“Facebook and all platforms have a First Amendment right to allow or disallow any speech they want, whether or not they have an advisory board. But the task of balancing political speech versus the political violence of January 6th is challenging enough to draw 9,000 public comments, and the Oversight Board process has brought a lot of voices into the debate,” Kovacevich said Tuesday.

Updated at 9:53 a.m.

Tags content moderation Donald Trump Facebook Facebook oversight board Josh Hawley Mark Zuckerberg Trump Facebook ban
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