Facebook Inc’s oversight board on Wednesday upheld the company’s suspension of former U.S. President Donald Trump.
Yet, the board said the company was wrong to make the suspension indefinite and gave it six months to determine a “proportionate response.”
Trump called the decision and his banning across tech platforms “a total disgrace” and said the companies would “pay a political price.”
The board, created by Facebook to rule on a small slice of its content decisions, said the company was right to ban Trump following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.
Facebook indefinitely blocked Trump’s access to his Facebook and Instagram accounts over concerns of further violent unrest following the Jan. 6 riot.
It enacted the suspension after removing two of Trump’s posts during the Capitol riot, including a video in which he said supporters should go home but reiterated his claim of widespread voter fraud, saying “I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us.”
But the board said Facebook should not have imposed an indeterminate suspension without clear standards and said the company should determine a response consistent with rules applied to other users.
The board said Facebook could determine that Trump’s account could be restored, suspended temporarily or permanently banned.
“Indefinite penalties of this sort do not pass the international or American smell test for clarity, consistency, and transparency,” said former federal Judge Michael McConnell, co-chair of the Oversight Board, during a press conference after publishing its decision on Wednesday.
In its decision, the board said Facebook refused to answer some of the 46 questions it posed, including those on how its news feed affected the visibility of Trump’s posts, and whether the company planned to look into how its technology amplified content as it had done in the events leading to the Capitol siege.
The board said Facebook’s existing policies, such as deciding when material is too newsworthy to remove, need to be more clearly communicated to users.
It also called on Facebook to develop a policy that governs how it handles novel situations where its existing rules would be insufficient to prevent imminent harm. See takeaways from the board’s decision.
Facebook’s business has thrived during the controversy and its main source of revenue, advertising, has boomed as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions begin to ease in the United States, but lawmakers across the political spectrum have raised concerns about the power of Facebook and other social media, many calling for new regulations and some calling for breakups of big tech.
Trump called the move “an embarrassment to our Country,” and added that “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.”
At a Financial Times conference after the verdict, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communication, said the company would hope to resolve the matter “considerably faster” than six months.
Tech platforms have grappled in recent years with how to police world leaders and politicians that violate their guidelines. Facebook has come under fire both from those who think it should abandon its hands-off approach to political speech and those, including Republican lawmakers and some free-expression advocates who saw the Trump ban as a disturbing act of censorship.