An oversight board for Facebook has extended former US president Donald Trump’s ban from the social media platform for another six months, in which time the company will reassess whether the ban should be indefinite.
The board of academics, lawyers and rights activists was tasked with assessing the nature of Mr Trump’s banned status from Facebook after a series of posts the former president published amid rising tensions before the US Capitol insurrection earlier this year.
While the board found that Trump’s posts had in fact violated Facebook’s policy against posts praising or supporting violence, Facebook was criticised by the board for its January 6 decision to ban Mr Trump.
Federal Judge Michael McConnell, co-chair of the oversight board, told a press conference on Wednesday that ‘indefinite penalties of this sort do not pass the international or American smell test for clarity, consistency, and transparency’.
The board described Facebook’s move as a ‘vague, standard-less penalty’ which was then passed on to someone else (the board) to resolve. It was the first time the company had moved to silence a serving head of state over a post they had made.
The ABC reports that Facebook has confirmed that it will consider the recommendation to review Mr Trump’s ban.
“We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate,” Nick Clegg, Facebook vice-president of global affairs and communication, published in a blog entry following the decision.
“In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended.”
In the view of the oversight board, an indefinite suspension of Trump was ‘not appropriate’ because it did not meet the penalty criteria of Facebook’s policies – the company needed to either make the ban time-bound or permanent, the decision said.
“Our sole job is to hold this extremely powerful organisation, Facebook, accountable,” McConnell said.
Trump also faced sanctions by Twitter and YouTube in January, with the companies highlighting the risk and potential for violence that the former president was encouraging as too great.
Mr Trump released his own statement, complaining that his free speech was being violated by social media companies. While Trump did not directly address the ruling he said the treatment was a ‘total disgrace’, and social media organisations like Facebook should face political consequences. According to a report by The New York Times, these platforms have served Trump extremely well in his political fundraising efforts.
“What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country,” Mr Trump said.
“These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our Electoral Process.”
The Trump campaign has also spent eye-watering figures on Facebook advertising – his 2020 presidential campaign hit nine figures.
Facebook’s oversight board was established in 2018 to rule on particular content decisions. The social media giant has found itself having to become more proactive intervening in misinformation and conspiracy information campaigns, despite express statements from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that he does not want his company to become an ‘arbiter of truth’ in social conversations.
Zuckerberg has been known to refer to the board as the Facebook Supreme Court.