Facebook oversight board upholds Trump’s social media ban

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Former President Donald Trump won’t return to Facebook — for now.

The social network’s quasi-independent Oversight Board voted to uphold his ban from the platform after his account was suspended four months ago for inciting violence that led to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

While upholding the suspension, the board faulted Facebook in a statement for the way it made the decision.

The board said the ongoing risk of serious violence justified Facebook’s suspension at the time, but said it “was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension.”

The board said Facebook was seeking to avoid its responsibilities by applying “a vague, standardless penalty” and then referring the case to the board to resolve.

“Indefinite penalties of this sort do not pass the international smell test,” oversight board co-chari Michael McConnell said in a conference call with reporters. “We are not cops, reigning over the realm of social media.”

The board agreed with Facebook that that two of Trump’s Jan. 6 posts “severely violated” the content standards of both Facebook and Instagram.

“We love you. You’re very special,” he said in the first post, and “great patriots” and “remember this day forever” in the second. Those violated Facebook’s rules against praising or supporting people engaged in violence, the board said.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former Danish prime minister who sits on the board, said in the call that Facebook shirked its responsibility to enforce its own rules. “Facebook should either permanently disable Trump’s account or propose a suspension for a specific period of time,” she said.

The board says Facebook has six months to reexamine the “arbitrary penalty” it imposed on Jan. 7 and decide on another penalty that reflects the “gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm.”

It didn’t say exactly how Facebook should do this, but offered a number of recommendations. One advised against drawing a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users because anyone with a big audience can potentially cause serious risks of harm.

Thorning-Schmidt said considerations of newsworthiness should “never” take priority over the risk of harm.

The board says the new penalty must be “clear, necessary and proportionate” and consistent with Facebook’s rules for severe violations.

The board says if Facebook decides to restore Trump’s accounts, the company must be able to promptly address further violations.

A Trump spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The board, which has 20 members and will eventually grow to 40, did not reveal how it voted. It said a minority of members emphasized that Facebook should require users who seek reinstatement after being suspended to “recognize their wrongdoing and commit to observing the rules in the future.”

Trump has also been permanently banned from Twitter.

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