Former US President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 28, 2021 in Orlando, Florida, USA.
Joe Skipper | Reuters
Facebook’s independent board of directors decided on Wednesday to uphold the company’s January decision to suspend former President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.
However, the indefinite time frame for the suspension is “not appropriate”. The board has effectively relayed the decision on the length of the suspension to Facebook, stating that it insists that the company look into this matter to identify and justify an appropriate response that is in line with the rules in place for other users of its platform be valid. “”
The board asked Facebook to complete the review within six months and made suggestions on how to create clear guidelines that balance public safety and freedom of expression.
“We will now examine the decision of the board and determine a measure that is clear and proportionate,” said Facebook in a blog post after the announcement. “In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended.”
Facebook blocked Trump’s accounts after the January 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol. The suspension was Facebook’s most aggressive move against Trump during his four-year tenure.
“We believe that the risk that the president can continue to use our service during this time is simply too great,” wrote Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg at the time in a post on his Facebook page.
Facebook referred the decision to its board of directors a few weeks later, saying that given the importance of the decision, “it is important for the board to review it and make an independent judgment as to whether it should be upheld”.
The decision to maintain Trump’s suspension is the most important action taken by the board of directors so far, which was initiated in October as the de facto “supreme court” for the company’s decisions on content moderation.
The Board is an independent body made up of experts in the fields of citizenship, technology, freedom of speech, journalism and human rights from around the world. A randomly selected but diverse group of five board members was selected to deliberate on the case, and the recommendation had to be approved by a majority of the entire 20-member board of directors.
Facebook had previously agreed to abide by the decisions of the board of directors, although Zuckerberg still has undisputed control over the company and the majority rule over the company’s shares.
The results of the board
The board found that Trump’s January 6th post “seriously violated” Facebook’s community standards. However, the platform “tries to evade its responsibilities” by imposing a vague penalty and then sending it to the board for review.
Trump’s statements on Facebook: “We love you. You are very special,” referring to the people who hang around the US Capitol, who rioters called “great patriots” and told them to “stay forever.” remember this day, “violated the rules of Facebook prohibiting the praise of people who are involved in violence, wrote the board of directors.
“The board noted that by maintaining an unfounded portrayal of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr Trump has created an environment where there is a serious risk of violence,” the board wrote, adding that Trump was posting his testimony there , immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions. “
However, Facebook’s decision to issue the ban indefinitely was not justified, the board found, because it “did not follow a clear, published procedure.”
“By imposing a vague, standard-less penalty and then referring this case to the board for resolution, Facebook is trying to evade its responsibilities,” the board wrote. “The board rejects Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.”
Speaking to reporters after the decision, co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt said the group basically told Facebook that they can’t just invent new unwritten rules if they see fit. Co-chair Michael McConnell said it was far from the first time Facebook had made ad hoc rules.
The co-chairs admitted Facebook’s decision might get back to their desks, but McConnell said the decision could be easier if Facebook followed its recommendations for creating clear guidelines.
The board said that while Facebook should apply the same rules to all members, the company should consider context when assessing the harm, even if posts are made by “influential users”. It added that timeliness considerations “should not be a priority when urgent action is needed to prevent significant harm”.
Facebook should publicly explain the rules by which users are banned for specific periods of time and assess whether the risk of harm has changed before the ban is lifted, the board wrote. Still, the board said that deleting an account or page might be appropriate in certain circumstances.