‘Total disgrace’: Trump fumes over ruling
Former US president Donald Trump has responded angrily to the Facebook oversight board’s decision to uphold his suspension from the platform, saying social media companies “must pay a price” for cracking down on him.
Mr Trump was banned from publishing on Facebook and Instagram after his supporters attacked the US Capitol Building on January 6. They were attempting to stop Congress from counting the electoral votes from the 2020 election and finalising Joe Biden’s victory.
Facebook said Mr Trump had used its platforms to spread misinformation and incite violence against the US government. He had spent the previous months claiming - falsely - that the election was “stolen” from him through widespread fraud.
Today the oversight board, a panel of experts Facebook set up to review its more contentious content moderation decisions, ruled that Mr Trump’s suspension was justified – though it also berated the company for making the ban indefinite.
Elsewhere, the former president has been permanently banned from Twitter and is barred from posting new videos on YouTube, which is owned by Google.
“What Facebook, Twitter and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our country,” Mr Trump said in a statement after the oversight board’s judgment was posted.
“Free speech has been taken 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.
“The people of our country will not stand for it! These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our electoral process.”
In its judgment, published this morning, the oversight board found Facebook violated its own rules by imposing an indefinite suspension on Mr Trump – an “arbitrary” penalty which is not laid out in the social media giant’s content moderation policies.
It instructed Facebook to reassess that penalty and replace it with “a proportionate response consistent with the rules”.
That could mean a suspension for a clearly defined period of time, or the permanent deletion of Mr Trump’s account.
“Facebook cannot make up the rules as it goes, and anyone concerned about its power should be concerned about allowing this. Having clear rules that apply to all users is essential for ensuring the company treats users fairly,” the board said.
“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.”
Facebook must complete this review within six months.
“The penalty must be based on the gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm. It must also be consistent with Facebook’s rules for severe violations,” said the board.
“If Facebook decides to restore Mr Trump’s accounts, the company should apply its rules to that decision, including any changes made in response to the board’s policy recommendations. In this scenario, Facebook must address any further violations promptly and in accordance with its established content policies.”
Mr Trump cannot appeal the decision.
Facebook created the oversight board last year, tasking it with reviewing controversial moderation decisions. While it’s funded by the company, it is supposed to be independent.
The board has 20 members, who range from academics to journalists and politicians.
Former British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who is now Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, responded to the board’s decision in a statement.
“We believe our decision (to suspend Mr Trump) was necessary and right, and we’re pleased the board has recognised that the unprecedented circumstances justified the exceptional measure we took,” Mr Clegg said.
“We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate. In the meantime, Mr Trump’s accounts remain suspended.”
OVERSIGHT BOARD EXPLAINS ITS DECISION
In reviewing Mr Trump’s suspension, the board focused on two posts from January 6.
In the first, a video message, the then-president directly addressed his supporters, thousands of whom had stormed the Capitol.
“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it,” Mr Trump told them.
“This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.
“You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.”
The second post, a written message, was sent about two hours later, as law enforcement was securing the Capitol.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love in peace. Remember this day forever!” said Mr Trump.
The board found that these posts “severely violated” Facebook’s community standards, and some of Mr Trump’s language violated the platform’s rules that prohibit “praise or support of people engaged in violence”.
More generally, it concluded that “in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action”, the former president “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible”.
“Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7,” the board said.
“However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension. It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.
“Indefinite suspensions are not described in the company’s content policies.”
The board accused Facebook of trying to “avoid” its responsibilities by shifting the final decision on the fate of Mr Trump’s account to it, instead of coming up with a clearly defined penalty itself.
“It is Facebook’s role to create necessary and proportionate penalties that respond to severe violations of its content policies. The board’s role is to ensure that Facebook’s rules and processes are consistent with its policies, its values and its human rights commitments,” it explained.
“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.”
HOW TRUMP’S BAN WAS IMPOSED
Mr Trump was banned from publishing on both Facebook and Instagram after the events of January 6.
Initially, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the suspension would last until the end of Mr Trump’s term on January 20.
“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor,” Mr Zuckerberg said.
“Over the last several years, we have allowed President Trump to use our platform consistent with our own rules, at times removing content or labelling his posts when they violated our policies. We did this because we believe that the public has a right to the broadest possible access to political speech, even controversial speech.
“But the current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”
Then the ban became indefinite, pending the oversight board’s ruling.
Yesterday, perhaps anticipating the board’s decision, Mr Trump launched a new communications platform called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump”. It’s essentially a blog, located on the former president’s official website.
“President Trump’s website is a great resource to find his latest statements and highlights from his first term in office, but this is not a new social media platform,” senior Trump adviser Jason Miller said.
“We’ll have additional information coming on that front in the very near future.”
BARRAGE OF MISINFORMATION
In the months after his defeat to Mr Biden, Mr Trump refused to accept the result. He spent the final months of his term spreading false claims that widespread fraud had robbed him of victory, making ample use of social media.
The then-president and his allies repeatedly challenged the results in court, and got nowhere. Judges at both state and federal level, including conservative judges appointed by Mr Trump himself, berated his legal team for offering no credible evidence to support its claims.
Mr Trump then set his sights on January 6, when a joint session of Congress would meet to formally count the electoral votes – the last step in confirming Mr Biden’s win.
He told his supporters that vice president Mike Pence, who would preside over the joint session, had the power to unilaterally reject the results.
“If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do. He has the absolute right to do it,” Mr Trump said at a rally on the morning of January 6.
This was false. Mr Pence had no such power.
Thousands of Mr Trump’s supporters proceeded to storm the Capitol, clashing violently with law enforcement.
That night, once the building was back under control, members of Congress returned and completed the electoral vote count.
Mr Biden won the count 306-232, the same margin as Mr Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. He also won the popular vote, by a margin of about seven million.