Oversight Board Calls Indefinite Suspension of Trump’s FB Account ‘Not Appropriate’

"President Trump Meets with Mark Zuckerberg" (public domain) by Trump White House Archived

On Wednesday, Oversight Board upheld former President Trump’s ban from Instagram and Facebook. However, the Board said that it was “not appropriate” for Facebook to impose the “indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.” 

The board announced Wednesday monring, “The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account,” However, they gave Facebook six months to review the “arbitrary” indefinite ban, saying in a tweet that the company “violated its own rules.”

In a statement, the board said, “Facebook cannot make up the rules as it goes, and anyone concerned about its power should be concerned about allowing this. Having clear rules that apply to all users and Facebook is essential for ensuring the company treats users fairly.”

The case referral from Facebook was accepted by the board in January to examine the ban and to provide policy recommendations on suspensions when the user is a political leader. 

“Mark Zuckerberg F8 2019 Keynote” (CC BY 2.0) by Anthony Quintano

On Wednesday, they announced that Facebook’s normal penalties include “removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account,” insisting 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.” 

Concerning the recommendations on suspensions for high-profile users like former President Trump, the baord stated that it is not always useful to draw a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users, recognizing that other users with large audiences can also contribute to serious risks of harm.

The board said, “While the same rules should apply to all users, context matters when assessing the probability and imminence of harm.” They continued, “When posts by influential users pose a high probability of imminent harm, Facebook should act quickly to enforce its rules. Although Facebook explained that it did not apply its ‘newsworthiness’ allowance in this case, the Board called on Facebook to address widespread confusion about how decisions relating to influential users are made.” 

The board also added that considerations of newsworthiness should not take priority when urgent action is needed in order to prevent significant harm.

Accordingly, the board also asked Facebook to publicly explain the rules that it uses when imposing account-level sanctions against influential users. The stated that the rules should make sure that when Facebook “imposes a time-limited suspension on the account of an influential user to reduce the risk of significant harm, it will assess whether the risk has receded before the suspension ends.” 

The board added, “If Facebook identifies that the user poses a serious risk of inciting imminent violence, discrimination or other lawless action at that time, another time-bound suspension should be imposed when such measures are necessary to protect public safety and proportionate to the risk.”

“If a head of state or high government official has repeatedly posted messages that pose a risk of harm under international human rights norms, Facebook should suspend the account for a period sufficient to protect against imminent harm,” the board said. “Suspension periods should be long enough to deter misconduct and may, in appropriate cases, include account or page deletion.” 

Responding to the board’s decision on Wednesday, Facebook said that they believe their move to ban former President Trump last January was “necessary and right.” Facebook added that they are pleased that the board has recognized that the unprecedented circumstances justified the exceptional measure they took. 

Facebook said, “In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended,” adding that they are reviewing the boards recommendations on policies surrounding political figures.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued last Wednesday, Trump called the social media bans against him, a “total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country.”

Trump said, “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,” He added, “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.”