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Facebook Oversight Board upholds decision to suspend Donald Trump, with a caveat

Facebook’s Oversight Board on Wednesday upheld the social media company’s decision to suspend former US President Donald Trump from its platform. The Board added, though, that a permanent suspension was an action taken in the absence of standards. “[I]t was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension,” the decision said. “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.” The decision elaborated:

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. 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.

Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7.

However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension. — Facebook Oversight Board

It’s key to note that the Board’s problem isn’t that Facebook opted to get rid of Trump indefinitely — its criticism is that Facebook took a kind of action that did not have standards backing it. While permanent suspension is an act that has standards, indefinite suspension isn’t something that Facebook has rules for. “In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities. The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty,” the Board said.

This essentially means that Facebook is now going to have to choose between making Trump’s suspension temporary, or making his ban permanent. We will update this post when the company reacts to the ruling. “Within six months of this decision, Facebook must reexamine the arbitrary penalty it imposed on January 7 and decide the appropriate penalty. This penalty must be based on the gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm,” the Board ordered.

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The Facebook Oversight Board is a body that deals with content moderation appeals. Facebook had referred its indefinite suspension of Trump’s account to the Oversight Board, asking them to take a final call on the move.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

Correction (6:33pm): This story’s headline and text initially said that the Facebook Oversight Board upheld the decision to ban former US President Trump permanently. While the decision did uphold the suspension, it criticised the fact that it was an “indefinite suspension” as opposed to other types of deplatforming that Facebook has guidelines for. We regret the error. 

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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