Facebook Inc’s oversight board on Wednesday upheld the company’s suspension of former U.S. President Donald Trump but said the company was wrong to make the suspension indefinite and gave it six months to determine a “proportionate response.”
Trump called the decision and his banning across tech platforms “a total disgrace” and said the companies would “pay a political price.”
The much-awaited board verdict has been watched for signals on how the world’s largest social media company will treat rule-breaking political leaders in the future, a key area of controversy for online platforms.
The board, created by Facebook to rule on a small slice of its content decisions, said the company was right to ban Trump following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.
Facebook indefinitely blocked Trump’s access to his Facebook and Instagram accounts over concerns of further violent unrest following the Jan. 6 riot. It enacted the suspension after removing two of Trump’s posts during the Capitol riot, including a video in which he said supporters should go home but reiterated his false claim of widespread voter fraud, saying “I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us.”
But the board said Facebook should not have imposed an indeterminate suspension without clear standards and said the company should determine a response consistent with rules applied to other users. It said Facebook could determine that Trump’s account could be restored, suspended temporarily or permanently banned.
“Indefinite penalties of this sort do not pass the international or American smell test for clarity, consistency, and transparency,” said former federal Judge Michael McConnell, co-chair of the Oversight Board, during a press conference after publishing its decision on Wednesday.
In an interview with Reuters, board co-chair and former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said public figures should not be allowed to incite violence or create harm though their posts, but that Facebook “can’t just invent new sanctions as they go along.”
In its decision, the board said Facebook refused to answer some of the 46 questions it posed, including those on how its news feed affected the visibility of Trump’s posts, and whether the company planned to look into how its technology amplified content as it had done in the events leading to the Capitol siege. [nL1N2MS1XJ]
The board said Facebook’s existing policies, such as deciding when material is too newsworthy to remove, need to be more clearly communicated to users. It also called on Facebook to develop a policy that governs how it handles novel situations where its existing rules would be insufficient to prevent imminent harm.