Facebook’s Oversight Board on Wednesday said the company was justified in suspending then-President Donald Trump from its platform on Jan. 7 but added that the company needed to take further action to clarify its penalties.
The board — an outside group founded and funded by Facebook that makes decisions regarding content moderation on the company’s sites — said the company was unfair by imposing an indeterminate suspension on Trump.
“Facebook cannot make up the rules as it goes, and anyone concerned about its power should be concerned about allowing this,” the board wrote in its decision. "Having clear rules that apply to all users and Facebook is essential for ensuring the company treats users fairly. This is what the Board stands for.”
Within 6 months of today, Facebook must review this matter and decide a new penalty that reflects its rules, the severity of the violation, and prospect of future harm. Facebook can either impose a time-limited suspension or account deletion.— Oversight Board (@OversightBoard) May 5, 2021
The board says Facebook must decide on a suspension length or totally delete Trump’s account within six months.
The board clarified that should Facebook opt to impose a time-limited suspension, the company should “assess the risk” that Trump would again use the platform to incite violence.
“If the risk remains, Facebook should impose another suspension,” the board wrote in its decision.
The Oversight Board added that Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg should not restore Trump’s account simply because of his status as a former president.
“The ‘newsworthiness’ of a public figure’s remarks should never take priority over urgent action to prevent harm,” the board wrote. “Facebook must be far more transparent about how its newsworthiness policy works.”
Finally, the board ordered Facebook to conduct a review into the site’s contribution into spreading false claims of election fraud — claims that spurred Trump’s supporters to gather in Washington on Jan. 6 and then breach the U.S. Capitol in the hopes of stopping the certification of the 2020 election.
In a statement released Wednesday, Facebook said it would abide by the Oversight Board's decision.
"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," the statement read in part.
In a statement released Wednesday, Trump criticized the decision, adding that the board's ruling and similar actions taken by Twitter and Google were a "total disgrace."
"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," Trump's statement read, in part.
Facebook and Instagram suspended Trump’s accounts following the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. In a Facebook post the next day, company founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Trump would be suspended through at least Jan. 20 over “his decision to use his platform to condone rather than condemn the actions of his supporters at the Capitol building.”
A day after President Joe Biden took office on Jan. 21, Facebook said it would refer Trump’s future on its platforms to the Oversight Board.
“In making our decision, our first priority was to assist in the peaceful transfer of power. This is why, when announcing the suspension on January 7, we said it would be indefinite and for at least two weeks. We are referring it to the Oversight Board now that the inauguration has taken place,” Facebook wrote in January.
Facebook wasn’t alone in their decision to de-platform the then-president in January. Twitter and YouTube were among the other social media sites to remove Trump’s accounts. Twitter has since said it will never allow Trump to return to its platform; YouTube says it will reinstate Trump when an “elevated risk of violence” passes.
Other websites like online retailer Shopify also chose to remove Trump-affiliated accounts from their websites following the riots.
In advance of the Oversight Board’s decision, Trump on Tuesday announced he had launched a new website, "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump," which he will use to release written and video statements.
"President Trump’s website is a great resource to find his latest statements and highlights from his first term in office, but this is not a new social media platform," said Trump spokesman Jason Miller on Twitter. "We’ll have additional information coming on that front in the very near future."