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Advisory panel upholds Facebook ban of Trump, with a catch

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A Facebook advisory board has upheld the platform’s suspension of the account of former President Donald Trump, but … and you knew there would be a but.

“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,” the Facebook Oversight Board said in a statement released on Wednesday.

The statement laid out that Facebook must complete its review of this matter within six months.

The Board also made policy recommendations for Facebook to implement in developing “clear, necessary and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression.”

Facebook suspended Trump’s account on Jan. 7, a day after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that Trump had incited among supporters to try to pressure Congress as it was meeting to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The Board found that two posts from Trump during the insurrection “severely violated Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines.”

Both posts made claims that the election had been “stolen” or “stripped” from Trump and his supporters, whom he referred to as “great patriots.”

The Board found that, “in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.”

“At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions,” the Oversight Board statement said. “As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence. The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram.”

Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was “justified” in suspending Trump’s accounts on Jan. 6 and extending that suspension on Jan. 7.

But in making the suspension indefinite, “Facebook did not follow a clear, published procedure,” the Board said.

“‘Indefinite’ suspensions are not described in the company’s content policies. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.

“In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities. The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.”

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued a statement on the Oversight Board decision.

“For years, we saw former President Donald Trump – along with a number of foreign leaders – successfully utilize Facebook and other large social media platforms to sow misinformation, bully opponents, and spread anti-democratic vitriol,” said Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“While this is a welcome step by Facebook, the reality is that bad actors still have the ability to exploit and weaponize the platform. Policymakers ultimately must address the root of these issues, which includes pushing for oversight and effective moderation mechanisms to hold platforms accountable for a business model that spreads real-world harm,” Warner said.

Story by Chris Graham


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