Facebook board upholds Trump ban, just not indefinitely

by Jeremy

Four months after Facebook suspended Trump’s accounts, concluding that he incited violence leading to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the company’s quasi-independent oversight board upheld the bans. But it told Facebook to specify how long they would last, saying that its “indefinite” ban on the former president was unreasonable. The ruling, which gives Facebook six months to comply, effectively postpones any possible Trump reinstatement and puts the onus for that decision squarely back on the company.

Facebook board upholds Trump ban, just not indefinitely

That could leave Facebook in the worst of all possible worlds — one in which Trump’s supporters remain enraged over the bans, his critics pushing for broader social-media regulation, and the company stuck with a significant issue it hoped the oversight board would resolve.

The decision only “kicks the can down the road,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, who said it highlighted the need for greater government oversight of social platforms.

The board ruled that Facebook was correct to suspend Trump’s account four months ago. But it said the company erred by applying a vague penalty and then passing the question of whether to ban Trump permanently to the board.

“Indefinite penalties of this sort do not pass the international smell test,” oversight board co-chair Michael McConnell said in a conference call with reporters. “We are not cops, reigning over the realm of social media.”

In a statement, Trump did not address the decision directly but said that Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s actions are “a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country.” He added: “These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price. The board agreed with Facebook that two of Trump’s Jan. 6 posts “severely violated” the content standards of both Facebook and Instagram. We love you. You’re exceptional,” Trump said to the rioters in the first post. In the second, he called them “great patriots” and told them to “remember this day forever.”

The board said those violated Facebook’s rules against praising or supporting people engaged in violence, warranting the suspension. Specifically, the board cited Facebook’s laws against “dangerous individuals and organizations,” which prohibit anyone who proclaims a violent mission and bans posts that express support or praise of these people or groups.

“Facebook should either permanently disable Trump’s account or impose a suspension for a specific period,” said board co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former Danish prime minister.

If Facebook decides to restore Trump’s accounts, the board said it must promptly address further violations. Among other recommendations, it advised against drawing a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users because anyone with a big audience can potentially cause severe risks of harm.

According to its report on the decision, there was some dissent within the board. A minority of board members sought to characterize Trump’s statements about the election being stolen, coupled with praise for the rioters, as a violation of Facebook’s rules against inciting violence through calls for action or by spreading misinformation and unverifiable rumors. But the board said that adding that as a violation wouldn’t have affected its final ruling.

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