A Facebook-appointed oversight panel on Wednesday temporarily upheld the platform’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump, who used his page to praise the mob of violent insurrectionists that attacked the U.S. Capitol building in January as Congress attempted to certify President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
The Facebook Oversight Board—a group of lawyers, journalists, and activists tasked with reviewing company policies—said the tech giant was justified in barring Trump from its platform over a series of posts on January 6 that perpetuated falsehoods about the 2020 election and hailed those who attacked the U.S. Capitol as “very special.”
“We can go back and forth all day about where the lines should be drawn, but simply demanding more and faster removal of content will not address the very real harms we are seeing. We need to strike at the root of the problem.”
—Evan Greer, Fight for the Future
Facebook originally blocked Trump from posting on the platform for 24 hours before imposing an indefinite ban on January 7. Twitter permanently banned Trump days after the insurrection.
While upholding Facebook’s ban for now, the oversight board said it was “not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.”
“Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account,” the panel said. “The board insists that Facebook review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform. Facebook must complete its review of this matter within six months of the date of this decision.”
Madihha Ahussain of Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization that supports banning Trump from Facebook permanently, warned in a statement that the board’s decision “leaves the door open for Facebook to let Trump back on the platform in six months—an unacceptable and dangerous outcome.”
“This decision is not something to celebrate,” Ahussain said. “It is a shameful indictment of Facebook and the Facebook Oversight Board that we just spent several months waiting to see if a man directly responsible for one of the darkest days in modern American history would be allowed to once again spread hate and lies online.”
For her part, Evan Greer of the digital rights group Fight for the Future argued that many of the conversations surrounding the Trump ban and other high-profile moderation decisions by Facebook “are utterly missing the point.”
“The vast majority of people who are silenced by Big Tech platform censorship are not former presidents or celebrities, they are marginalized people, particularly sex workers and politically active Muslims who live outside the U.S.,” Greer said. “We can go back and forth all day about where the lines should be drawn, but simply demanding more and faster removal of content will not address the very real harms we are seeing.”
“Facebook’s surveillance capitalist business model is fundamentally incompatible with human rights,” Greer continued. “We need to strike at the root of the problem: break Big Tech giants, ban surveillance advertising, and non-transparent algorithmic manipulation, and fight for policies that address this parasitic business model while preserving the transformative and democratizing power of the Internet as a powerful tool for social movements working for justice and liberation.”
Jessica González, co-CEO of Free Press, similarly argued that the panel’s ruling Wednesday amounts to “a temporary Band-Aid that obscures a much larger problem: the greed-driven incentives that compel Facebook to trade public safety for corporate profit.”
“Until U.S. and global governmental intervention reins in Facebook,” said González, “the company will continue to profit off of inflammatory political rhetoric, advertising, and disinformation that targets diverse communities and undermines democracies.”
This story has been updated to include comment from Fight for the Future’s Evan Greer.