Facebook oversight board upholds ban on Trump

Published May 6, 2021
ARLINGTON: A woman uses her laptop to visit Donald Trump’s new social media platform, Straight from the Desk.—AFP
ARLINGTON: A woman uses her laptop to visit Donald Trump’s new social media platform, Straight from the Desk.—AFP

WASHINGTON: Faceb­ook’s independent oversight board on Wednesday upheld a ban on former US president Donald Trump while ordering further review of the case, in a decision with a potentially far-reaching impact on the regulation of online speech.

The board, whose decisions are binding on the leading social network, said Trump “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible” with his comments regarding the January 6 rampage by his supporters at the US Capitol.

“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 said after its review.

However, the panel also ruled that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standard-less penalty of indefinite suspension.”

“Within six months of this decision, Facebook must re-examine the arbitrary penalty it imposed on January 7 and decide the appropriate penalty,” said the board in its written opinion.

“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,” it added.

The panel said Facebook “can either impose a time-limited suspension or account deletion”.

The case had been intensely followed for its repercussions for social networks seeking to curb misinformation and abusive content while remaining open to political discourse.

Trump was suspended from Facebook and Instagram after posting a video during the deadly storming of the Capitol by fired-up supporters challenging his election loss, in which he told them: “We love you, you’re very special.” Shortly after the board ruling, Trump issued a statement reiterating his false claims that voter fraud caused his defeat in November, and urging his followers to “never give up”.

The US leader, who has consistently challenged the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election, was banned permanently by Facebook the day after the Capitol siege, and was taken off other platforms including Twitter and YouTube.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, welcomed Wednes­day’s ruling and said Facebook would review its options.

“As we stated in January, we believe our decision was necessary and right, and we’re pleased the board has recognised that the unprecedented circumstances justified the exceptional measure we took,” Clegg said in a statement.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2021

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