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Oversight Board Upholds Facebook Ban on Trump, With Caveat

May 5, 2021 by Dan McCue
President Donald Trump speaks to crowd before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., in Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, file photo. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

Facebook’s Oversight Board has upheld the social media platform’s suspension of former President Donald Trump’s Facebook account, but in doing so, it said the company failed to impose the penalty properly.

“It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored,” the board said in its decision.

“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.”

The caveat did little to mollify those in Trump’s circle, like his former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who declared on Fox News that the Oversight Board’s decision was “a sad day for America.”

“I can tell you that it is two different standards — one for Donald Trump, and one for a number of other people that are on their sites and suggesting more nefarious things than what the president has been accused of, [and] actually go unnoticed, often,” Meadows continued.

He also claimed a “number of members of Congress” are asking themselves whether they should break up Facebook or take other steps to ensure it doesn’t have a monopoly.

Trump himself later sent out a message via email that stated: “What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country. 

“Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth, but the truth will come out anyway, bigger and stronger than ever before,” the former president continued. “The People of our Country will not stand for it! These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our Electoral Process.”

Facebook created the quasi-independent Oversight Board  to rule on questionable content on its platforms following widespread criticism of its difficulty responding swiftly and effectively to misinformation, hate speech and nefarious influence campaigns. Its decisions so far — all nine of them — have tended to favor free expression over the restriction of content.

In its first rulings, the panel overturned four out of five decisions by the social network to take down questionable material. It ordered Facebook to restore posts by users that the company said broke standards on adult nudity, hate speech, or dangerous individuals.

In its latest decision, the board instructed Facebook to complete a review to determine whether Trump can return to the platform.

“The board insists that Facebook 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. Facebook must complete its review of this matter within six months of the date of this decision,” the ruling said.

This has implications not only for Trump but for tech companies, world leaders and people across the political spectrum — many of whom have wildly conflicting views of the proper role for technology companies when it comes to regulating online speech and protecting people from abuse and misinformation.

After years of handling Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric with a light touch, Facebook and Instagram took the drastic step of silencing his accounts in January. 

In announcing the unprecedented move, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the risk of allowing Trump to continue using the platform was too great.

“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page on Jan. 7.

The decision by the Oversight Board came roughly 24 hours after Trump unveiled a new blog on his personal website, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.” 

While Trump aides have spent months teasing his plans to launch his own social media platform, his spokesman Jason Miller said via Twitter that the blog was something separate.

“President Trump’s website is a great resource to find his latest statements and highlights from his first term in office, but this is not a new social media platform,” he tweeted. “We’ll have additional information coming on that front in the very near future.”

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