The decision by Facebook’s “Oversight Board” means it will not have to reverse the indefinite suspension that went into effect after the Capitol Riots.
But the committee did say that Facebook had acted inappropriately in the way it enacted the ban, and instructed the company to undertake a review into how the ban was determined.
It said that Facebook’s own policies did not permit the kind of suspension that had happened to Mr Trump. While people can be banned permanently, users should know whether that is the case, the Oversight Board said, and Mr Trump should know why and for how long he has been banned.
As such, Mr Trump could still be allowed back on the site after a review by Facebook itself, the Oversight Board suggested. Facebook must ensure that the former president’s ban is “consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform”, and potentially reverse course if it is not, it said in its decision.
The company must decide whether it wants to let him back on the site, give him a temporary ban for a specific period of time, or block him forever. It must make that decision in the next six months, in line with its rules, and make that public.
“The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account,” Facebook said.
“However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.”
Facebook will have six months to complete that review, the board said, after which he could potentially be allowed back on the site.
In response, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, said that Facebook would consider its recommendations. But he did not commit to any particular approach to Mr Trump’s ban, or taking on the Oversight Board’s recommendations.
“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,” he wrote in a blog post.
“The board also made a number of recommendations on how we should improve our policies. While these recommendations are not binding, we actively sought the board’s views on our policies around political figures and will carefully review its recommendations.”
The Oversight Board also urged Facebook to “address widespread confusion about how decisions relating to influential users are made”. It also asked for clarification on Facebook’s definition of “newsworthiness”, and how that applies to influential accounts that might otherwise have their content removed.
That was just one of a large list of new proposals from the Oversight Board to Facebook. They included broader requests, including asking Facebook to conduct a “comprehensive review of Facebook’s potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud and the exacerbated tensions that culminated in the violence” on 6 January.
The board also warned that Facebook is not able to use it to help make controversial decisions about content, and that it must ensure policies are in place to make clear how such decisions are made.
Mr Trump was banned on 7 January in the wake of the attacks on the Capitol and a series of posts made from his official Facebook account. After initially taking down the individual posts, Facebook said that it had acted made the decision to ban Mr Trump amid fear about the violence that could be provoked by possible future posts.
It said the ban would go into place “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete”. Facebook left that indefinite ban in place, and referred the decision to the Oversight Board.
The decision was made by the Facebook Oversight Board, a group established by the company and intended to review its content decisions. Though Facebook stresses that the board and its verdicts are independent, the it is nonetheless paid for and chosen by Facebook itself.
Any decisions made by the Oversight Board are binding, and not even the company’s most senior staff or shareholders – including Mark Zuckerberg – are permitted to ignore or alter them.
The board has overturned decisions by Facebook, since it began publishing its findings in January. Many of those have included the restoration of posts and accounts that had previously been removed.
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