Facebook’s Oversight Board has upheld the company’s decision to block former President Donald Trump from its platforms, it announced Wednesday.
The ruling means Trump will continue to be blocked from Facebook and Instagram. But the board said an indefinite suspension of Trump’s account was inappropriate and the company has six months to lay out new penalties.
“However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension,” the board said in a statement explaining its decision. “Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.”
Facebook has 30 days to respond publicly, according to the Oversight Board’s rules.
The board found that two of Trump’s posts on January 6 “violated Facebook’s rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence.” The violating posts, the board said, included referring to “great patriots” and calls to “remember this day forever.”
“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,” the board said Wednesday. “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, that suspension should not be indefinite, the board said. Facebook should come to a decision within six months on whether Trump will be permanently banned or if another penalty is appropriate.
“In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities,” the board said. “The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the decision to block Trump from Facebook and Instagram on Jan. 7, one day after a group of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol in a bloody and deadly riot.
In the same week, the 45th president’s platform of choice, Twitter, announced the decision to permanently ban Trump from its platform. Trump was also blocked from Snapchat and YouTube after the riot.
Trump has more than 35 million Facebook followers and more than 24 million Instagram followers. He also had more than 88 million Twitter followers before he was blocked, and often used the platform to break news or announce policy moves.
The social media bans ignited a debate about the role of tech giants in society and whether they should have the power to silence users without external policies that are clearly defined.
Unlike Facebook, other tech behemoths such as Twitter have not expressed any intent to even reconsider allowing Trump to return to the platform.
Twitter called its banning of Trump a “permanent suspension” and CFO Ned Segal said earlier this week that the company’s position on the former president’s account has not changed.
“When you step back and think about our policies, we want to work hard to be consistent, to be transparent so people know exactly what to expect from us. We don’t have an oversight board like that [like Facebook],” Segal told Yahoo Finance. “Our team is accountable for the decisions that we make. There is no changes to anything we have talked about in the past.”
In October, Facebook and Twitter both blocked The Post from its accounts over the Hunter Biden email expose. Twitter users were also barred from sharing the story in question, and the company justified its move by baselessly charging that “hacked materials” were used in the story. The company backed down after about two weeks, unlocking The Post’s account.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey later testified before lawmakers that that censorship effort was a “total mistake.”
As for the president, Facebook in January defended its blocking of Trump, and said it was referring the call on whether to make the ban permanent to the company’s independent Oversight Board, which was officially formed in October and is made up of 20 “members from a variety of cultural and professional backgrounds,” according to its website.
A panel of five randomly selected members from the broader 20-person board deliberates on any single case. Once the panel reaches a decision, a majority from the larger group must sign off before it is published.
“The board was established last year to make the final call on some of the most difficult content decisions Facebook makes,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, wrote in January of the board. “It is an independent body and its decisions are binding — they can’t be overruled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg or anyone else at Facebook.”
In that January post, Clegg acknowledged that the social media titan’s decision to silence a world leader was controversial and called for greater deliberation.
“Whether you believe the decision was justified or not, many people are understandably uncomfortable with the idea that tech companies have the power to ban elected leaders. Many argue private companies like Facebook shouldn’t be making these big decisions on their own,” he wrote. “We agree.”
Trump, for his part, appears to already be readying his future on alternatives to major social media sites. On Tuesday, Trump launched his own webpage that allows him to circumvent the Facebook and Twitter bans on his accounts. The site, donaldjtrump.com/desk, launched with a video declaring itself a “beacon of freedom” and “a place to speak freely and safely” four months after Twitter purged the 45th president and Facebook suspended him indefinitely.