Facebook Oversight Board upholds Trump ban but ‘insists’ on a review and permanent decision

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Facebook’s Oversight Board has officially given a verdict over the platform’s January decision to ban then-President Donald Trump. While the board ruled to keep the indeterminate ban in place, it also “insists” that Facebook review the matter within six months to make a permanent decision that is “consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform.”

Facebook banned Trump from the platform on January 7, 2021, a day after the riot on the Capitol. Noted by CNBC, at the time Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”

Facebook’s Oversight Board published a detailed report of its findings and decision today on its website.

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. At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions. As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence. The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram.

Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7.

However, the board also decided that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension.”

It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.

In applying this penalty, Facebook did not follow a clear, published procedure. ‘Indefinite’ suspensions are not described in the company’s content policies. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.

The Board’s decision

The ruling of the board is that Facebook has six months to review the “arbitrary penalty” and decide on a consistent, clear, and proportionate permanent decision for Trump’s account.

Within six months of this decision, Facebook must reexamine the arbitrary penalty it imposed on January 7 and decide the appropriate penalty. This penalty must be based on the gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm. It must also be consistent with Facebook’s rules for severe violations, which must, in turn, be clear, necessary and proportionate.

If Facebook decides to restore Mr. Trump’s accounts, the company should apply its rules to that decision, including any changes made in response to the Board’s policy recommendations below. In this scenario, Facebook must address any further violations promptly and in accordance with its established content policies.

Facebook’s response

Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications, Nick Clegg has made an official statement accepting the ruling and committing to determining a “clear and proportionate” action.

However, while the board has not required Facebook to immediately restore Mr. Trump’s accounts, it has not specified the appropriate duration of the penalty. Instead, the board criticized the open-ended nature of the suspension, calling it an “indeterminate and standardless penalty,” and insisted we review our response. We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate. In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended.

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