The Facebook Oversight Board — a panel of “journalists, activists, and lawyers,” per The New York Times — announced Wednesday morning that they would uphold the social media platform’s ban against former President Donald Trump, though it admitted the standard for banning figures is vague and requires clarification.
The board, though, also noted that the initial decision to ban Trump without an intermediate warning or punishment was “not appropriate” and that the ban should not be indefinite. They then demanded the platform revisit the suspension in six months after it has had a chance to clarify the standards by which is institutes bans.
“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,” the Oversight Board said in its statement, released Wednesday morning.
“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,” the Board added, noting that it believed Trump “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible” by continuing to post about the validity of the 2020 presidential election results.
“However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension,” the board added. “Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.”
“As Facebook suspended Mr. Trump’s accounts ‘indefinitely,’ the company must reassess this penalty,” the board said. “It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.”
The board referred further decisions on the issue back to Facebook with an instruction to clarify how it handles violations of its terms of service. The social media platform must review the matter “within six months” of today’s date. Although a full report has yet to be released, the Board noted that it has sent “policy recommendations” to Facebook.
“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. Facebook must complete its review of this matter within six months of the date of this decision,” they said. “The Board also made policy recommendations for Facebook to implement in developing clear, necessary, and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression.”
The company, the Board said, should ultimately have a “defined penalty” for violations of its terms.
Michael McConnell, the co-chair of the Oversight Board, said in a phone call Wednesday that “Our sole job is to hold this extremely powerful organization, Facebook, to be held accountable,” and that the Board believed Trump’s permanent ban “did not meet these standards.”
“The Oversight Board is clearly telling Facebook they can’t invent new, unwritten rules when it suits them,” another board member, a former Prime Minister of Denmark, added in the call.
Nick Clegg, a former far-left legislator in the United Kingdom who now serves as Facebook’s Vice President for Global Affairs and Communications, addressed the board’s decision in a post on Facebook’s website, saying that the company will “now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate.”
“In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended,” Clegg added.