The Sentinel-Record

Facebook board upholds Trump ban, just not indefinite­ly


Former President Donald Trump won’t return to Facebook — at least not yet.

Four months after Facebook suspended Trump’s accounts, having concluded 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.

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 momentous issue it clearly 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 cochair 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 actions by Facebook, Twitter, and Google 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 that two of Trump’s Jan. 6 posts “severely violated” the content standards of both Facebook and Instagram.

“We love you. You’re very special,” 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.”

Those violated Facebook’s rules against praising or supporting people engaged in violence, the board said, warranting the suspension. Specifical­ly, the board cited Facebook’s rules 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.

But it insisted that the company needed to take responsibi­lity for its decision.

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

The board said that if Facebook decides to restore Trump’s accounts, it must be able to 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 serious risks of harm.

There was some dissent within the board, according to its report on the decision. 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.

Facebook has long straddled that issue, granting political figures greater leeway than it allows ordinary users because, it argued, even their rule-breaking statements were important for citizens to hear.

“The same rules should apply to all users on Facebook, no matter how influentia­l they are,” said board spokesman Dex Hunter-Torricke, a former speechwrit­er for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

If anything, he said, Facebook should look at the context of posts more carefully.

“A world leader or a very influentia­l public figure has an enormous voice and reach, they are incredibly influentia­l and that means their speech has the power to create all sorts of additional risks for people,” Hunter-Torricke said. “And Facebook needs to take that into account when acting on things which may potentiall­y create harm.”

Facebook created the oversight panel to rule on thorny content issues following widespread criticism of its problems responding swiftly and effectivel­y to misinforma­tion, hate speech and nefarious influence campaigns. The board’s earlier decisions — nine of them before Wednesday — have tended to favor free expression over the restrictio­n of content.

The board, which has 20 members and will eventually grow to 40, did not reveal how it voted on Trump’s suspension. It said a minority of members emphasized that Facebook should require users who seek reinstatem­ent after being suspended to “recognize their wrongdoing and commit to observing the rules in the future.”

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