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Facebook Oversight Board upholds Trump ban, says proper penalty wasn't imposed

However, the oversight board also cryptically stated that it was “not appropriate” for the company to impose the "indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension”.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., August 15, 2020. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., August 15, 2020. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., August 15, 2020. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger (REUTERS)

Facebook’s Oversight Board on Wednesday upheld the decision of the company to ban former US President Donald Trump’s from the platform, settling a much-debated question about what the platform's first response should be while dealing with world leaders who violate its terms of service.

The Board stated in a post announcing the decision that it found that the two posts by Trump on January 6 in connection with the US Capitol violence, severely violated Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines. “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 observed.

The Board noted: “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.

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Stating that it found Trump had “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible” by maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, the Board said that at the time of the 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 reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram,” the Board observed. 

However, the oversight board also cryptically stated that it was “not appropriate” for the company to impose the “indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension”. It has insisted that the company review the matter to come up with a  response that is in line with the rules it applies to other users on the platform. ”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 observed.

The Board held that the company did not follow a clear, published procedure while dealing with the suspension and stated that ‘Indefinite’ suspensions were not described in the company's content policies. As of today, the company removes violating content, imposes time-bound suspensions or permanently disables pages and accounts. 

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Observing that the company had sought to “avoid its responsibilities” by applying a vague and standardless penalty, the Board stated that it declined the company's request and insisted that it apply and justify a defined penalty. 

The company now has six months to complete its review and comply with the Oversight Board’s decision.

Banned from both Facebook and Twitter after the unprecedented and violent unrest at the US Capitol on January 6, the former president has no hope of returning to Twitter, but Facebook’s Oversight Board had announced that it would review the company’s decision to ban him from the platform.

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Restoring the president’s account means the company will have to give the former president access to his old account, allowing him to reach his followers, while a permanent ban will mean his account and page will be deleted forever.

Meanwhile, Trump has launched a website to allow his readers to share his messages on Facebook and Twitter while the bans were in place. He is also expected to launch his own social media network soon, according to recent reports.

The decision to uphold the ban on Facebook today will have wide-reaching effects on the way the company deals with world leaders after they violate the official guidelines. Both Twitter and Facebook had previously taken a lenient stance when it came to world leaders,  until the violent incident on January 6, where armed Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol and five people lost their lives, with many more injured in the process.

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