Reuters reports that The oversight board of Facebook Inc upheld the company's suspension of former U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday but said the company was wrong to make the moratorium permanent and gave it six months to decide a "proportionate response."
Trump called the decision and his ban across tech platforms a "absolute embarrassment," and he threatened the companies with a "political price."
The board's decision has been closely watched for clues on how the world's largest social media organization will handle rule-breaking political leaders in the future, a central point of contention for online platforms.
The Facebook-created board, which rules on a small portion of the company's content decisions, said the company was correct to ban Trump following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump supporters.
Facebook blocked Trump's access to his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely due to fears about more violent violence following the Jan. 6 riot. It suspended deleting two of Trump's posts from the Capitol riot, including one in which he told supporters to go home but repeated his false accusation of widespread voter fraud, saying, "I know your pain. We had an election that was stolen from us."
However, the board of directors stated that Facebook unfairly enforced a suspension without specific guidelines. The company should decide on a response compatible with the rules applicable to other users.
It stated that the company would decide whether Trump's account should be reinstated, temporarily suspended, or permanently banned.
"Indefinite sanctions of this kind do not pass the foreign or American smell test for clarity, consistency, and transparency," said former federal judge Michael McConnell, co-chair of the Oversight Board, at a press conference following the decision's release on Wednesday. In an interview with Reuters, board co-chair and former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said that while public figures should not be able to encourage violence or cause harm via their posts, Facebook "can't just invent new sanctions. As they go along."
The board stated in its decision that Facebook declined to address any of the 46 questions it asked, including how its news feed influenced the exposure of Trump's posts.Also, whether the company intended to investigate how its technology-enhanced content, as it had done in the events leading up to the Capitol siege.
According to the commission, Facebook's current policies, such as determining when content is too newsworthy to delete, should be conveyed to users more clearly. It also urged Facebook to create a policy governing how it treats novel circumstances in which its current rules will be inadequate to avoid imminent damage.
Although Facebook's company has thrived through the controversy, and its key source of revenue, advertisement, has boomed as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions begin to ease in the United States. The politicians across the political spectrum have expressed concerns about the influence of Facebook and other social media platforms, with many pushing for new laws and others calling for big tech to be split up.
Trump called the decision an "embarrassment to our Country," adding, "Free Speech has been stripped 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."
Following the verdict, Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs and communication, told a Financial Times conference that the company hoped to settle the matter "considerably sooner" than six months.
In recent years, tech companies have struggled with police world leaders and politicians who abuse their policies. Facebook has come under fire from both those who believe it should abandon its hands-off approach to political speech and see the Trump ban as a disturbing act of censorship, including Republican lawmakers and some free-expression advocates.
Facebook was one of the social media platforms that blocked the former president, including Twitter Inc, which suspended him indefinitely. Political leaders ranging from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders have expressed concern that private corporations may use their websites to silence public officials.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the time of the suspension, "the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this timeframe are simply too high." The case was later referred to the company's newly formed board, which comprises scholars, attorneys, and human rights advocates.
Trump will be unable to return to Facebook's sites for the time being, despite having 59 million followers across Facebook and Instagram. His campaign invested about $160 million on Facebook ads in 2020, according to Democratic digital company Bully Pulpit Interactive's campaign tracker.
Trump introduced a new website on Tuesday to exchange posts, which readers can then re-post to their Facebook or Twitter accounts. According to a senior advisor, Trump also intends to launch his own social media site.
The decision on Wednesday is a watershed moment for the oversight board, which Facebook-funded with $130 million. Some scholars lauded the body as a novel experiment. In contrast, others questioned its independence or saw it as a PR stunt to divert focus away from the company's more structural issues.
"This ruling is a desperate attempt to get it both ways, upholding the 'ban' of Donald Trump without necessarily banning him while deferring all real decisions to Facebook," said the "Real Facebook Oversight Board," a group of scholars, experts, and Facebook critics.