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Facebook oversight board upholds Trump ban

WORLD: Facebook’s independent oversight board yesterday (May 5) 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.


Thursday 6 May 2021, 07:50AM

Donald Trump was suspended from Facebook and Instagram after he posted a video during the deadly January 6 rampage by his supporters at the US Capitol in which he stated: “We love you, you’re very special.” Photo: AFP.

Donald Trump was suspended from Facebook and Instagram after he posted a video during the deadly January 6 rampage by his supporters at the US Capitol in which he stated: “We love you, you’re very special.” Photo: AFP.

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 Jan 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.

But the panel also ruled that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.”

“Within six months of this decision, Facebook must reexamine 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 yesterday’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 recognized that the unprecedented circumstances justified the exceptional measure we took,” Clegg said in a statement.

“We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate. In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended.”

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Clarifying the rules

Some analysts said Facebook and other social networks should have acted on Trump sooner, after years of giving him an exemption from rules on hateful content because of his “newsworthiness” as a political leader.

In its ruling, the oversight board - envisioned by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as the equivalent of a “supreme court” for thorny content decisions - made additional recommendations on dealing with potentially harmful content from world leaders.

The panel said “that it is not always useful to draw a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users, recognizing that other users with large audiences can also contribute to serious risks of harm,” according to its statement.

It also “called on Facebook to address widespread confusion about how decisions relating to influential users are made” and said “considerations of newsworthiness should not take priority when urgent action is needed to prevent significant harm.”

And it said Facebook needs to consider how it deals with controversial political content around the world.

“Restrictions on speech are often imposed by powerful state actors against dissidents and political oppositions. Facebook must resist pressure from governments to silence political opposition, and stand up for free expression.”

Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows, responding to the decision, said it would have a chilling effect on free speech and that Facebook needed to be regulated or broken up.

“It’s a sad day for America, it’s a sad day for Facebook,” he told Fox News.

Angelo Carusone, president of the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters for America, meanwhile deemed the ruling “appropriate,” saying the rationale for banning Trump was overwhelming and “never should have been up for debate.”

Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank specialising in the sector, called it “a win for transparency and fairness.”

“With 2.8 billion users, no decision Facebook makes will ever make everyone happy,” Castro said, while judging that the company “has created the most open and transparent adjudication process available to social media users.”

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