Posted on May 5, 2021

Facebook Oversight Board Upholds Social Network’s Ban of Trump

Mike Isaac, New York Times, May 5, 2021

A Facebook-appointed panel of journalists, activists and lawyers on Wednesday upheld the social network’s ban of former President Donald J. Trump, ending any immediate return by Mr. Trump to mainstream social media and renewing a debate about tech power over online speech.

Facebook’s Oversight Board, which acts as a quasi-court over the company’s content decisions, ruled the social network was right to bar Mr. Trump after the insurrection in Washington in January, saying he “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.” The panel said that ongoing risk “justified” the move.

But the board also kicked the case back to Facebook and its top executives. It said that an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate” because it was not a penalty defined in Facebook’s policies and that the company should apply a standard punishment, such as a time-bound suspension or a permanent ban. The board gave Facebook six months to make a final decision on Mr. Trump’s account status.

“Our sole job is to hold this extremely powerful organization, Facebook, accountable,” Michael McConnell, co-chair of the Oversight Board, said on a call with reporters. The ban on Mr. Trump “did not meet these standards,” he said.

The decision adds difficulties to Mr. Trump rejoining mainstream social media, a key source of his clout that he used during his White House years to directly cajole his tens of millions of followers, exploit their grievances, set policy and criticize opponents. Twitter and YouTube had also cut off Mr. Trump in January after the insurrection at the Capitol building, saying the risk and potential for violence that he created were too great.

But while Mr. Trump’s Facebook account remains suspended, he may be able to return to the social network once the company reviews its action. {snip}

In a statement, Mr. Trump did not directly address the board’s ruling. But he slammed Facebook, Google and Twitter — some of which have been major fund-raising platforms for him — and called them corrupt.

“Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s continued Facebook suspension gave Republicans, who have accused social media companies of suppressing conservative voices, new fuel against the platforms. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has testified in Congress several times about whether the social network has shown bias against conservative political views. He has denied it.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, said the Facebook board’s decision wasextremely disappointing” and that it was “clear that Mark Zuckerberg views himself as the arbiter of free speech.” And Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, said Facebook, which faces antitrust scrutiny, should be broken up.

Democrats were also unhappy. Frank Pallone, the chairman of the House energy and commerce committee, tweeted, “Donald Trump has played a big role in helping Facebook spread disinformation, but whether he’s on the platform or not, Facebook and other social media platforms with the same business model will find ways to highlight divisive content to drive advertising revenues.”


Mr. Trump’s case is the most prominent that the Facebook Oversight Board, which was conceived in 2018, has handled. The board, which is made up of 20 journalists, activists and former politicians, reviews and adjudicates the company’s most contested content moderation decisions. Mr. Zuckerberg has repeatedly referred to it as the “Facebook Supreme Court.”


In Mr. Trump’s case, Facebook also asked the board for recommendations on how to handle the accounts of political leaders. On Wednesday, the board suggested the company should publicly explain when it was applying special rules to influential figures, though it should impose definite time limits when doing so. The board also said Facebook should clarify its strikes and penalties process, and develop and publish a policy that governs responses to crises or novel situations where its regular processes would not prevent imminent harm.


Facebook does not have to adopt these recommendations but said it “will carefully review” them.