Trump Facebook ban: Why oversight board isn’t letting ex-president return to website

The Board said that Mr Trump created an ‘environment ... of violence’ but that Facebook was not justified in an indefinite suspension

Adam Smith@adamndsmith
Wednesday 05 May 2021 14:42
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Donald Trump will remain banned on Facebook, as the social media company’s Oversight Board has decided to maintain the suspension following the insurrection attempt on 6 January 2021.

But his ban may not last forever, with the board warning that the “indefinite” nature of his suspension is not in line with Facebook’s own rules.

Mr Trump infamously made two posts which Facebook said violated the company’s community standards on “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” which precludes “proclaim[ing] a violent mission” including “terrorist activity” and “organised hate”.

At the time, Facebook said this was an “emergency measure”, as the then-president promoted false information about the election and told rioters that he loved them.

“’We love you. You’re very special’ in the first post and ‘great patriots’ and ‘remember this day forever’ in the second post violated Facebook’s rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence”, the Board says in its explanation.

Mr Trump “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible”, but while the Board said that Facebook was justified in suspending Mr Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an “indefinite” suspension.

The Board states:

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.

It is Facebook’s role to create necessary and proportionate penalties that respond to severe violations of its content policies. The Board’s role is to ensure that Facebook’s rules and processes are consistent with its content policies, its values and its human rights commitments.

In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities. The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.

Within six months, Facebook must make a new decision: either restore Mr Trump’s account, make the suspension permanent, or suspend the account for a determined period of time, Michael McConnell, co-chair of the Board, said in a press call. It argued that there was a lack of clarity around the suspension, something that was not justified to the former president.

If the account is restored, Facebook must justify why it believes its decision would not lead to harm, co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark, said.

In a statement provided to the Board through the American Center for Law and Justice page administrator, Mr Trump requested the Board “reverse Facebook’s indefinite suspension of the Facebook account of former U.S. President Donald Trump.”

It goes on to claim that Mr Trump’s speech did not proclaim a violent mission and that the Board should “defer to American law in this appeal”.

The Independent has reached out to Mr Trump to verify these quotes.

The Board said that it is not always useful to draw a distinction between political leaders and other users, as other users with large audiences can also contribute serious harm. This is likely a concern for the Board, and Facebook, because Mr Trump would not be a political leader if he is reinstated.

A minority of the Board said that Facebook should take steps to prevent the repetition of such actions, and ensure that users who seek reinstatement after suspension recognise their wrongdoing.

It made other recommendations, including rapidly escalating political speech to specialised staff, reviewing Facebook’s potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud, explain its strikes and penalties processes, and provide users with accessible information on how many violations, strikes, and penalties have been assessed against them.

The Board was created to review Facebook’s policy decisions, funded by a $130m trust from the company.

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