Facebook board upholds Trump ban, just not indefinitely

Matt O'Brien and Barbara Ortutay
The Associated Press

Former President Donald Trump won’t return to Facebook — at least not yet.

Four months after Facebook suspended Trump’s accounts, having concluded that he incited violence leading to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the company’s quasi-independent oversight board upheld the bans. But it told Facebook to specify how long they would last, saying that its “indefinite” ban on the former president was unreasonable.

The ruling, which gives Facebook six months to comply, effectively postpones any possible Trump reinstatement and puts the onus for that decision squarely back on the company.

That could leave Facebook in the worst of all possible worlds — one in which Trump’s supporters remain enraged over the bans, his critics pushing for broader social-media regulation and the com­pany stuck with a momentous issue it clearly hoped the oversight board would resolve.

The decision only “kicks the can down the road,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, who said it highlighted the need for greater government oversight of social platforms.

The board ruled that Facebook was correct to suspend Trump’s account four months ago. But it said the company erred by applying a vague penalty and then passing the question of whether to ban Trump permanently to the board.

“Indefinite penalties of this sort do not pass the international smell test,” oversight board co-chair Michael McConnell said in a conference call with reporters. “We are not cops, reigning over the realm of social media.”

In a statement, Trump did not address the decision directly, but said that actions by Facebook, Twitter and Google are “a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country.” He added: “These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price.”

The board agreed with Facebook that two of Trump’s Jan. 6 posts “severely violated” the content standards of both Facebook and Insta­gram.

“We love you. You’re very special,” Trump said to the rioters in the first post. In the second, he called them “great patriots” and told them to “remember this day forever.”

‘Dangerous’: Those violated Facebook’s rules against praising or supporting people engaged in violence, the board said, warranting the suspension. Specifically, the board cited Facebook’s rules against “dangerous individuals and organizations,” which prohibit anyone who proclaims a violent mission and bans posts that express support or praise of these people or groups.

But it insisted that the company needed to take responsibility for its decision.

“Facebook should either permanently disable Trump’s account or impose a suspension for a specific period of time,” said board co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former Danish prime minister.

The board said that if Facebook decides to restore Trump’s accounts, it must be able to promptly address further violations. Among other recommendations, it advised against drawing a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users because anyone with a big audience can potentially cause serious risks of harm.

There was some dissent within the board, according to its report on the decision. A minority of board members sought to characterize Trump’s statements about the election being stolen, coupled with praise for the rioters, as a violation of Facebook’s rules against inciting violence through calls for action or by spreading misinformation and unverifiable rumors. But the board said that adding that as a violation wouldn’t have affected its final ruling.