A semi-autonomous oversight board for Facebook has upheld a suspension of former US President Donald Trump, but orders a review to be conducted by the social media giant within six months.
“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,” the 20-person panel said in its decision.
The board found that two Trump posts on January 6 “severely violated” Facebook’s standards.
In the first, Trump told rioters: “We love you. You’re very special.” In the second, he called those storming the Capitol “great patriots”, telling them to “remember this day forever”.
“The Board found that, 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 panel said in justification of its decision.
“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. As president, Mr Trump had a high level of influence. The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram,” it added.
“However, the board determined it was “not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension”, with Michael McConnell, co-chair of the panel, telling reporters “indefinite penalties of this sort, do not pass the international or American smell test for clarity, consistency, and transparency”.
The panel called on the company within six months to “review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform.
Nick Clegg, Facebook vice president of global affairs and communication, said in a blog entry that Facebook “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.
Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was quick to slam the decision.
“This is a sad day for America,” Meadows told Fox News. “They shouldn’t have a monopoly, and yet Google and Facebook and YouTube actually control much of what America sees … it is time that we break up big tech, not just regulate it.”
Facebook, which owns Instagram, suspended Trump a day after rioters stormed the US Capitol as legislators met to certify the victory of President Joe Biden. The incident followed a weeks-long disinformation campaign by Trump and his allies claiming that the election had been “stolen”.
Other leading social media platforms also booted Trump in the wake of the riot, with Twitter, where Trump has 88 million followers, saying its ban would be permanent.
The Facebook oversight board was launched in October of 2020 amid an ongoing debate over the company’s ability to manage hate speech and misinformation on the platform. Civil liberties advocates have also accused Facebook of limiting free speech.
The board’s 20 members, who will eventually grow to 40, include a former prime minister of Denmark and the former editor-in-chief of The Guardian newspaper, along with legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists.
The first four board members were directly chosen by Facebook. Those four then worked with Facebook to select additional members, leaving some to question the board’s independence.