Facebook’s oversight board on Wednesday upheld the social media company’s decision to ban former U.S. President Donald Trump from posting comments to his Facebook and Instagram accounts, a measure imposed after he posted incendiary remarks as hundreds of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
The quasi-independent panel, however, left open the possibility that Trump could eventually return to the popular website, saying it “was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.”
The oversight group gave Facebook executives six months to re-examine the “arbitrary penalty” it imposed the day after the insurrection, when Trump urged followers to confront lawmakers as they certified Joe Biden’s election victory.
The review said Facebook executives should decide on another penalty that reflects the “gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm.”
Facebook management responded by saying it “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."
Trump reacted angrily to the oversight panel’s decision.
"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.
“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,” he said. He also said, “What Facebook, Twitter and Google have done is a total disgrace and embarrassment to our Country.”
The White House offered no response to the board's decision. "This is an independent board decision, and we're not going to have any comment on the future of the former president's social media platform,” press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Trump, now three-plus months out of office but contemplating another run for the presidency in 2024, unveiled Tuesday morning a new website, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” to communicate with his supporters. It looked much like a Twitter feed, with posts written by Trump that could be shared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
During his four years in the White House, Trump broke new ground with thousands of tweets on issues of the day, endorsements of Republican candidates he favored over those who had attacked him, and acerbic comments about opposition Democrats.
A letter submitted to the oversight panel on Trump’s behalf asked the board to reconsider the Facebook suspension, contending it was “inconceivable" that either of his January 6 posts "can be viewed as a threat to public safety, or an incitement to violence.”
The letter also claimed all “genuine” Trump supporters at the Capitol on January 6 were law-abiding, and that “outside forces” were involved. However, more than 400 people inside the Capitol that day, including many wearing Trump-emblazoned hats and shirts and carrying pro-Trump flags and signs, have been arrested and charged with an array of criminal offenses.
The oversight board found that Trump’s two posts in the midst of the chaos at the Capitol that left five people dead severely violated Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines.
“We love you. You’re very special” in the first post, and “great patriots” and “remember this day forever,” in the second post violated Facebook’s rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence, the review panel said.
The oversight group went on to say 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. 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.”
“As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence,” the panel concluded. “The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram.
“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 panel said. “However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension.”
In one of his posts during the insurrection, Trump said, “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 the post and decided the next day to extend Trump’s ban indefinitely, at least past Biden’s January 20 inauguration.
“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 U.S. and around the world,” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a January 7 statement. “We removed these statements yesterday because we judged that their effect — and likely their intent — would be to provoke further violence.”
The 20-member review panel was composed of legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists. A five-member panel prepared a decision, which had to be approved by a majority of the full board, and which Facebook was then required to implement unless the action could violate the law.
The board says its mission is to “answer some of the most difficult questions around freedom of expression online: what to take down, what to leave up, and why.”
The Facebook Oversight Board was created last October after the company faced criticism it was not quickly and effectively dealing with what some feel has been problematic content.
The board announced its first decisions in January, supporting Facebook’s decision to remove content in one case, but overruling the company and ordering it to restore posts in four other cases.