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Facebook Oversight Board upholds Trump suspension but orders review

Facebook must review the matter within six months

Caroline Linton, Musadiq Bidar and Dan PattersonCBS NEWS

Facebook announced Wednesday that it would not be allowing former President Trump to return to the platform, nearly five months after suspending him following the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

But the company’s Oversight Board said it was “not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.” Facebook must review the matter within six months.

The Facebook Oversight Board has 20 members who are based around the world and are lawyers, professors, journalists, and human rights activists. The committee, established by CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2019, is sometimes referred to as “Facebook’s Supreme Court” because it can overturn decisions made by company executives and its decisions are final. Mr. Trump’s case will be the tenth decision the board has handed down.

A five-member panel from the board was assigned to hear the case and produce a final opinion, which will also include dissenting views. 

Mr. Trump was banned from major social media platforms in the wake of the January 6 attack, when a mob of his supporters descended on the Capitol to try to stop the counting of the Electoral College votes. Lawmakers were forced to flee as rioters overtook the building for several hours. Five people died and Mr. Trump was later impeached by the House on a charge of inciting an insurrection. 

During the riot, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter and Facebook for his supporters to leave, but also repeated false claims about the election.

“I know your pain, I know you’re hurt,” Mr. Trump said in the video. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace.” Later in the video, he repeated the false claim that it was a “fraudulent election.”

Facebook took down his video later that day, calling it an “emergency situation.” “We removed it because on balance we believe it contributes to rather than diminishes the risk of ongoing violence,” posted Facebook vice president Guy Rosen. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic and in the weeks leading up to and after the election, social media platforms had been flagging Mr. Trump’s posts that contained misleading information. On January 6, Facebook was the first to remove the video entirely. 

After it was removed, Mr. Trump took to Twitter, writing: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!” 

Twitter removed the post and froze his accounts for 24 hours. The following day, Twitter permanently suspended Mr. Trump’s account, as well as his campaign account. 

On January 7, Facebook suspended Mr. Trump’s account until the inauguration, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg posting that the “risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”

After the inauguration, Facebook turned its final decision on Mr. Trump’s account over to its Oversight Committee

The committee said in April that it was extending the public comment period before making a decision. According to Reuters, Facebook said it had received over 9,000 comments, more than any other case. 

In its previous decisions the Oversight Board has tended to rule in favor of “free expression.” The board has sided against the company on several high-profile cases, including a ruling to overturn Facebook’s removal of a post about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China. The Oversight Board has also overturned decisions to remove posts relating to nudity, COVID-19 misinformation and hate speech, while upholding a decision to remove a post that contained an ethnic slur.

Facebook’s reliance on the board to decide a small number of challenging cases has come under fire from critics who say the company needs to be doing more to reduce the spread of dangerous misinformation and disinformation on the world’s largest social network. 

“It’s just outsourcing responsibility for the problems which are on its platform,” Carole Cadwalladr, an author and investigative journalist who first exposed the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal in 2018, told CBSN on Tuesday. “It’s kind of whitewashing these decisions through this body of experts,” she said, and “deflecting attention from what are the real harms of Facebook, which is not content moderation. The real harms are really its business model, these algorithms which we know amplify polarizing and hate content and lead to some of the impacts that we’ve seen.” 

Twitter has not allowed Mr. Trump back, and issued a ruling in April that it will not be archiving his tweets. But while Mr. Trump’s personal page will not be archived, Twitter has kept a record of several institutional government accounts, including those that belong to former White House press secretaries Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kayleigh McEnany. 

The @POTUS45 account, which was the official government page for the president, and the official @WhiteHouse45 account are both archived on Twitter.

Without a direct line to the millions of followers he used to reach on Twitter and Facebook, Mr. Trump has begun posting statements, sometimes several times per day, on a page of the Save America PAC website.

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