SAN FRANCISCO – A Facebook-appointed panel of journalists, activists and lawyers confirmed the social network’s ban on former President Donald J. Trump on Wednesday, ending any immediate return of Mr Trump to mainstream social media and renewing one Debate on the technical power of the Internet speech.
Facebook’s oversight board, which acts as the court for the company’s substantive decisions, ruled that the social network rightly banned Mr. Trump after the Washington uprising in January, saying that he had “created an environment in which to serious risk of violence is possible. ” The panel said the persistent risk “justified” the move.
The board has also thrown the case back on Facebook and its top executives. An indefinite suspension was “not appropriate” as it was not a punishment set out in Facebook’s policies and the company should apply a standard punishment such as a temporary suspension or a permanent ban. The board gave Facebook six months to make a final decision on Mr Trump’s account status.
“Our only job is to hold this extremely powerful organization, Facebook. accountable, ”Michael McConnell, co-chair of the Oversight Board, told reporters on a call. Mr. Trump’s ban “did not meet these standards,” he said.
The decision makes it difficult for Mr Trump to re-enter mainstream social media, a major source of clout that he used during his years in the White House to directly appease his tens of millions of followers, take advantage of their abuses, set guidelines and criticize opponents. Twitter and YouTube also cut Mr Trump off after the Capitol uprising in January, saying the risk and potential for violence he created was too great.
While Mr Trump’s Facebook account remains banned, he may be able to return to the social network once the company reviews its actions. Mr Trump still has a tremendous influence on Republicans, and his false claims of a stolen election continue to be mirrored. On Wednesday, House Republican leaders moved to expel Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney for criticizing Mr. Trump and his election lies.
In a statement, Mr. Trump did not directly address the board’s decision. But he slammed Facebook, Google, and Twitter – some of which were important fundraising platforms for him – and called them corrupt.
“The President of the United States has been denied freedom of speech because radical left-wing madmen are afraid of the truth,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s continued Facebook suspension gave new fuel to the platforms for Republicans who have accused social media companies of suppressing conservative voices. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, testified several times in Congress whether the social network had shown bias towards conservative political views. He denied it.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican from Tennessee, said the decision was made by the Facebook board “extremely disappointing ”and it was“ clear that Mark Zuckerberg sees himself as the arbiter of freedom of speech ”. And Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan said Facebook, which is under antitrust scrutiny, should be disbanded.
Democrats were unhappy too. Frank Pallone, chairman of the House’s Energy and Trade Committee, tweeted, “Donald Trump has played a huge role in spreading disinformation on Facebook, but whether he’s on the platform or not, Facebook and other social media platforms do too The same business model will find ways to highlight divisive content in order to generate ad revenue. “
The decision underscored the power of tech companies to determine who can say what online. While Mr. Zuckerberg has said that he doesn’t want his company to be “the arbiter of truth” in social discourse, Facebook has become increasingly active on the type of content it allows. To prevent the spread of misinformation, the company has been cracking down on QAnon conspiracy theories, polling loopholes, and anti-vaccination content for the past few months before Trump’s lockdown in January.
“This case has dramatic implications for the future of online language as the public and other platforms examine how the Board of Directors will deal with a difficult controversy that will recur around the world,” said Nate Persily, professor at Stanford University Law School .
He added, “President Trump has moved the envelope beyond the allowable language on these platforms and set the outer boundaries so that if you are not willing to pursue it, you will allow a great deal of incitement and hate speech and disinformation online others will spread. “
In a statement, Facebook said it was “pleased” that the board recognized that Mr Trump’s January lockdown was warranted. It said it would examine the judgment and “determine an act that is clear and proportionate”.
The case of Mr Trump is the most prominent one that the Facebook Oversight Board, conceived in 2018, has dealt with. The board, made up of 20 journalists, activists and former politicians, reviews and evaluates the company’s most controversial decisions regarding the moderation of content. Mr. Zuckerberg has repeatedly referred to it as the “Facebook Supreme Court”.
Although positioned as independent, the body was founded and funded by Facebook and has no legal or enforcement agency. Critics were skeptical of the board’s autonomy, saying it gave Facebook the ability to make tough decisions.
Each of his cases is decided by a five-person panel chosen from the 20 members of the Board of Directors, one of whom must be from the country from which the case originates. The committee examines the comments on the case and makes recommendations to the entire board, which decides with a majority of votes. After a decision is made, Facebook has seven days to respond to the board’s decision.
Since the board began issuing decisions in January, it has overturned Facebook’s decisions in four of the five cases it examined. In one case, the board asked Facebook to restore a post in which Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis’ head of propaganda, made a reference to the Trump presidency. Facebook had previously removed the post for “promoting dangerous people,” but it was in line with the board’s decision.
In another case, the board ruled that Facebook had gone too far by removing a post from a French user who falsely suggested that the drug hydroxychloroquine could be used to cure Covid-19. Facebook restored the post but also said it would continue to remove the wrong information, as directed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
In Trump’s case, Facebook also asked the board for recommendations on how to deal with the accounts of political leaders. On Wednesday, the board suggested that the company publicly explain when it would apply special rules for influential people, although it should set specific deadlines in doing so. The board also said Facebook should clarify its strike and punishment process and develop and publish a policy regulating responses to crises or novel situations in which its regular processes would not prevent impending harm.
“Facebook was clearly abused by influential users,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, co-chair of the Oversight Board.
Facebook doesn’t have to accept these recommendations, but has said it will “examine them carefully”.
For Mr. Trump, Facebook has long been a place to gather his digital base and support other Republicans. He was followed by more than 32 million people on Facebook, although this was far fewer than the 88 million+ followers he had on Twitter.
Over the years, Mr. Trump and Mr. Zuckerberg had an irritable relationship. Mr Trump regularly attacked Silicon Valley executives for suppressing conservative language. He also threatened to revoke Section 230, a legal shield protecting companies like Facebook from liability for what users post.
Mr Zuckerberg on occasion criticized some of Mr Trump’s policies, including how to deal with the pandemic and immigration. But as calls from lawmakers, civil rights activists, and even Facebook’s own staff increased to contain Mr Trump on social media, Mr Zuckerberg declined to act. He said the speeches given by political leaders, even if they are telling lies, were timely and in the public interest.
The two men appeared cordial at occasional meetings in Washington. Mr Zuckerberg visited the White House more than once and dined privately with Mr Trump.
The courtesy ended on January 6th. Hours before his supporters stormed the Capitol, Mr Trump used Facebook and other social media to cast doubts on the results of the presidential election he lost to Joseph R. Biden Jr. Trump wrote on Facebook, “Our country has had enough, them will not take it anymore! “
Less than 24 hours later, Mr Trump was banned from the platform indefinitely. While his Facebook page stayed active, she slept. His last Facebook post on January 6th read: “I ask everyone in the US Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! “
Cecilia Kang contributed to coverage from Washington.