Facebook’s Oversight Board, which makes the final call on controversial content takedown decisions and bans, upheld the social network’s ban on former US President Donald Trump today. The Board said that Trump’s posts “severely violated” Facebook’s rules and his words during the US Capitol attack in January “legitimized violence” and put people’s lives at risk.
“President Trump’s actions on social media encouraged and legitimized violence and were a severe violation of Facebook’s rules,” said Thomas Hughes, Director of the Oversight Board Administration. “By 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. Facebook’s decision to suspend the President on January 7 was the right one.”
Further, the Board said that while it was correct for Facebook to suspend the account, the penalty imposed was incorrect. The Board said that the social network should have used its “established account-level penalties” for severe violations instead of an indefinite suspension, which is not included in its content policies. The board called this arbitrary and rejected Facebook’s “request for it to endorse indefinite suspension”.
Hughes said that an indefinite suspension gives “total discretion” to Facebook on when to lift or impose a ban and “isn’t supported by their content policies”. “Any one concerned about the power of Facebook should be concerned with the company making decisions outside of its own rules,” Hughes said. The Board directed Facebook to re-examine the penalty and impose one consistent with its own rules.
The Board also made policy recommendations about how the company should deal with heads of states or other high government officials in future. “In the future, if a head of state or high government official repeatedly posts messages that pose a risk of harm Facebook should either suspend the account for a definitive period or delete the account,” the Board said.
It also said Facebook should “assess the risk of inciting harm before the suspension ends” when it imposes time bound suspensions in future. “Influential users who pose a risk of harm should not be reinstated,” the Board said.
The recommendations also direct Facebook to publish full reports on the platform’s potential contribution to the “narrative of electoral fraud and political tensions” that led to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. “This should be an open reflection on Facebook’s design and policy choices that may allow its platform to be abused,” the Board said.
Lastly, it asked for Facebook to publish a new policy to govern its decisions during crisis situations and explain its strikes and penalties process, giving users more information on how it makes such assessments.
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