"As Facebook suspended Mr. Trump's accounts 'indefinitely,' the company must reassess this penalty," the Facebook Oversight Board said in a statement on Wednesday

By Sean Neumann
May 05, 2021 09:12 AM
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Former President Donald J Trump speaks during the final day of the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hyatt Regency Orlando on Sunday, Feb 28, 2021 in Orlando, FL
Former President Donald Trump
| Credit: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty

An appeals group at Facebook found Wednesday that the platform was correct in banning former President Donald Trump from both Facebook and Instagram in the wake of the U.S. Capitol attack.

But the Facebook Oversight Board said the company must review that "vague" penalty within six months and either reverse it or adjust its rules to more clearly match the punishment.

"The Oversight Board has upheld Facebook's decision to suspend Mr. Trump's access to post content on Facebook and Instagram on January 7, 2021. However, as Facebook suspended Mr. Trump's accounts 'indefinitely,' the company must reassess this penalty," the board said in a statement.

"This penalty must be based on the gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm," the board said. "It must also be consistent with Facebook's rules for severe violations, which must, in turn, be clear, necessary and proportionate."

The board, which Facebook funds as a monitor on its decisions, is made up of 20 members — mostly academics but also nonprofit leaders, journalists and the former prime minister of Denmark.

Its purpose is to provide "independent judgement" on "what to take down, what to leave up, and why."

The board acknowledged the tension inherent in its role — as a group created and funded by Facebook amid continued scrutiny over how the company regulates itself and its users — in issuing its decision on Trump:

"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 made a number of recommendations to Facebook on making its rules and punishments more transparent and on how it should navigate regulating posts by influential figures.

Some social media companies previously said Trump's infamously divisive style was too newsworthy, as a politician, to be subject to strict moderation.

The board also suggested Facebook, as a platform, may have had some role in the disinformation that fueled the Trump mob. The company should "undertake a comprehensive review of Facebook's potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud and the exacerbated tensions that culminated in the violence [at the Capitol]," the board said.

President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House
Donald Trump
| Credit: Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images

Facebook suspended Trump "indefinitely" on Jan. 7, one day after the deadly riot by his supporters at the Capitol during a joint session of Congress — sending lawmakers, temporarily, into hiding.

Five people died.

Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube also barred Trump, 74, from using their sites in what became essentially a ban from all major social media platforms.

Trump was soon impeached for an unprecedented second time, before he was acquitted by a Republican majority in the Senate.

He appealed his Facebook ban in February; as the board noted, the company had previously asked them to review the matter as well.

USA Today reported in February that the issue had drawn a high volume of public comment while the board was deliberating.

Since leaving office, Trump has launched his own website and issued statements via email to the press — often in the same frenetic style as his posts on Twitter. He has remained at his private Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, while weighing his political future.

In a statement Wednesday, Trump insisted he was being muzzled and again alluded to baseless claims of election fraud.

"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 said.

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pro Trump protesters breach Capitol building
Rioters at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6
| Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riots "shocking" in a statement at the time.

"His decision to use his platform to condone rather than condemn the actions of his supporters at the Capitol building has rightly disturbed people in the US and around the world," Zuckerberg said then, announcing Trump's ban and the removal of several statements he made about the attack, including those praising the rioters.

Trump was widely criticized for doing nothing to stop the Capitol attack for hours and later telling his violent supporters "we love you, you're very special," before finally telling them to "go home."

Zuckerberg said Facebook had judged that the effect of Trump's statements "and likely their intent" would be to "provoke further violence."

Twitter indicated in February that Trump's ban would be permanent from its site.

"When you're removed from the platform, you're removed from the platform," Ned Segal, the company's chief financial officer, told CNBC.