On Wednesday, the Facebook Oversight Board upheld former President Donald Trump’s January suspension from the platform, citing his creation of “an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.”
The Facebook-appointed panel, conceived in 2018 and made up of 20 experts from around the globe, ruled the suspension was justified, though an indefinite ban was “not appropriate.” It recommended the social media platform determine a clear standard applicable to all users. Facebook will review Trump’s suspension again in six months.
Board Co-Chair Michael McConnell, a Stanford law professor, stressed at a press conference shortly after the decision that Facebook’s policies and lack of transparency were contributing to suspicions of bias and widespread confusion.
The board’s decision noted that Facebook declined to answer some of the questions it posed, including whether the company would investigate how its technology amplifies content as it did leading up to the events of January 6.
Trump was also banned from Twitter and YouTube in January, limiting his ability to communicate with both friends and foes through social media. On Tuesday, his website was updated to include posts authored by the former President that users can like and share on social media. The style of the page mimics a Twitter feed, though users cannot comment or reply.
News of the board’s decision renewed the national debate over free speech rights on social media platforms. Mark Zuckerberg has testified in Congress many times regarding the issue and has always denied his platform is biased against conservative voices.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, in support of the decision, said, “Facebook is not the public square, so they’ve made a determination and they don’t want to be an avenue to convey that, through their medium, and I think they have the right to do that.” He added lawmakers plan to review regulations governing tech companies and social media.
Some critics suggest the continued suspension crossed the line under the First Amendment. Others implied companies such as Facebook are too big, too powerful, and should be broken up, citing antitrust laws.
Dissatisfaction came from both sides of the political aisle. Representative Frank Pallone, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tweeted, “Donald Trump has played a big role in helping Facebook spread disinformation, but whether he’s on the platform or not, Facebook and other social media platforms with the same business model will find ways to highlight divisive content to drive advertising revenues.”
The Facebook Oversight Board has overturned Facebook’s decisions in four out of five cases since January, when it began issuing rulings. Importantly, the board has no legal or enforcement authority.
Facebook Ban On Donald Trump Will Hold, Social Media’s Oversight Board Rules, NPR (May 5, 2021)
Trump Facebook ban remains but oversight board rips company policies, Reuters (May 5, 2021)
Facebook Oversight Board Upholds Social Network’s Ban of Trump, The New York Times (May 5, 2021)
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