Facebook’s Oversight Board, the independent body established by the social giant to review content-policy decisions, on Wednesday issued a ruling upholding Facebook’s January decision to suspend the former U.S. president. Trump was suspended from Facebook and Instagram over his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol seeking to overturn the 2020 election.
“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,” the board said in a statement. “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.”
However, the board faulted Facebook for imposing “the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension” of Trump. As such, the Oversight Board said it “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” — and said the company must complete the review within six months.
In addition, the Oversight Board recommended that Facebook clarify its policies regarding “serious risks of harm posed by political leaders and other influential figures.”
“While the same rules should apply to all users, context matters when assessing the probability and imminence of harm,” the board said in its statement. “Facebook should publicly explain the rules that it uses when it imposes account-level sanctions against influential users.”
Facebook temporarily froze Trump’s accounts on Jan. 7 through at least President Biden’s inauguration, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg citing the potential for ongoing violence for the decision. “We believe the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Zuckerberg said at the time. Twitter banned Trump permanently on Jan. 8, while other internet companies have taken similar actions to “deplatform” him.
As noted by the Oversight Board, on Jan. 6, Facebook removed a video posted by Trump telling the Capitol mob to go home — while also reiterating baseless election-fraud claims and telling the rioters “we love you, you’re very special.” Later that day, Facebook deleted a Trump post in which he wrote, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love in peace. Remember this day forever!” Facebook removed both posts under its policy on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations.
Two weeks later, Facebook said the company was referring the decision about whether Trump’s accounts would be reinstated to its Oversight Board, the 20-member organization composed of lawyers, academics, policy analysts, journalists and industry experts.
The Oversight Board said it received more than 9,000 public comments about Trump’s status at Facebook.
Critics have long called on Facebook to ban Trump to stop the spread of misinformation — including Trump’s repeated false assertion that the 2020 election was somehow rigged against him — and inflammatory rhetoric. Conservatives have blasted moves to deplatform Trump as infringing his political speech.
Facebook established the Oversight Board, which some have referred to as “Facebook’s Supreme Court,” to take that responsibility out of the hands of the social giant’s executives. Under the Oversight Board’s charter, the decisions it makes are binding and, allegedly, cannot be overruled by Zuckerberg or anyone else at Facebook.
Trump’s Facebook page currently has 35.2 million followers. His most recent post is from Jan. 6, when he addressed the mob at the Capitol, writing, “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
Americans are divided on whether Trump should be permanently banned from social media, according to a recent the Pew Research Center survey, fielded April 12-18. The survey found that 49% of U.S. adults say Trump’s accounts should be permanently banned from social media, while 50% say they should not be. Republicans and Democrats hold deeply contrasting views of a lifetime ban for Trump.
Unsurprisingly, opinions break down along party lines. Only 11% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say Trump’s accounts should be permanently banned from social media, while 88% say they should not be. By comparison, 81% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say his accounts should be banned permanently. Roughly one-in-five Democrats (18%) do not support this type of ban on Trump’s accounts.
In a post Wednesday on his personal website, Trump lashed out Facebook (as well as Twitter and Google) with his typical brand of rhetoric.
“What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country,” Trump wrote. “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.”
Trump also issued a vague threat that “corrupt social media companies must pay a political price” and he alleged that they somehow worked to “destroy and decimate” the American electoral process.