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Facebook’s Trump ban can stay in place, says Oversight Board

Facebook’s Trump ban can stay in place, says Oversight Board


The board took up the decision after January’s Capitol riot

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook’s Oversight Board has upheld Facebook’s ban on former President Donald Trump, as announced by the organization on Wednesday.

However, the board says that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose” an indefinite suspension on Trump, and calls on the company to review this decision within the next six months to “determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform.” That review opens the door to allowing Trump back onto the platform at some point this year but leaves the ultimate decision in Facebook’s hands.

“Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended,” says Facebook

In a statement issued Wednesday, Facebook’s VP of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg said that Facebook would consider the board’s decision and determine a policy position regarding indefinite bans as requested by the board. “In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended,” Clegg said.

First announced in 2018, the Oversight Board is funded by a grant from Facebook but politically independent from the company, composed of independent experts from a range of countries and backgrounds. It was designed to serve as an international appeals court for high-stakes moderation cases, although the Trump ban is by far the highest-profile case to come before the organization.

Trump was suspended from Facebook platforms following the deadly Capitol riot this past January. Shortly after suspending the account, Facebook asked the Oversight Board to review Trump’s ban. Initially scheduled for 90 days, the review was postponed in April after more than 9,000 public remarks came in commenting on the ruling.

“Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible”

Notably, the board’s ruling affirms that Trump’s posts on January 6th contributed to the violence of the Capitol Riot. “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 decision reads. “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 decision argues explicitly against the “World Leader” policy adopted by Twitter, which took a lighter moderation approach to political leaders. Instead, the Oversight Board found that leaders should be held to the same or higher standards.

“It is not always useful to draw a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users,” the decision reads. “If a head of state or high government official has repeatedly posted messages that pose a risk of harm under international human rights norms, Facebook should suspend the account for a period sufficient to protect against imminent harm.”

The Oversight Board’s decisions are not technically binding, but so far, Facebook has deferred to its judgment on individual appeals. The board made its first decisions in January, asking Facebook to restore four posts originally censored for nudity, hate speech, and COVID-19 misinformation. (It agreed with Facebook on one case, where a user posted a “dehumanizing slur” against Armenians.) Facebook also responded favorably to several optional recommendations, agreeing to clarify some policies and test new features. It explicitly disagreed with only one suggestion: loosening its rules against posting pandemic-related false information.

Trump remains banned on other large social networks. In the wake of the Capitol attack, Twitter permanently removed his account and YouTube suspended him indefinitely. However, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki recently promised to restore his account in the future, once the imminent risk of inciting violence had diminished.

Social media played a large role in Trump’s rise to prominence, and many in his inner circle see it as critical to maintaining his influence in future election cycles. On Wednesday, an unnamed source close to the former president told Axios that Trump’s return to Facebook was “essential for his future political viability.”

As President, Trump placed significant regulatory pressure on platforms, in part to prevent them from taking moderation action against conservatives. In 2020, he signed an executive order calling on the Federal Communications Commission to reinterpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The commission has not taken up the order.

More recently, Trump attempted to escape the influence of platforms entirely by launching a new “communications platform” on his campaign website mimicking a Twitter feed. Supporters are encouraged to sign up for post alerts with their emails and phone numbers.

The US remains divided on whether Trump should be allowed back onto social media according to a report issued Wednesday by the Pew Research Center, which saw 49 percent of US adults agree that Trump’s accounts should be permanently banned.