Facebook Punts Decision About Permanently Banning Trump to Oversight Board

The question of whether Donald Trump will ever be allowed back on Facebook or Instagram — after he incited a mob of supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol earlier this month — will be decided by the social network company’s Oversight Board.

On Jan. 7, the day after the attack in D.C., Facebook said it was suspending Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely. The company said the ban would be in effect for at least two weeks, through Inauguration Day, and potentially longer. CEO Mark Zuckerberg cited the risk of ongoing violence for the decision. Trump was banned permanently by Twitter on Jan. 8, and other internet companies have taken similar actions to “deplatform” the disgraced former president.

Now that President Biden has officially assumed office, Facebook said, it is referring the decision to indefinitely suspend the Trump to the independent Oversight Board, which it established “to make the final call on some of the most difficult content decisions Facebook makes,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of global affairs and communications, wrote in a blog post Thursday.

Clegg, the former U.K. deputy prime minister who joined the social giant in 2018, said that while Facebook believes the decision to block Trump “was necessary and right,” the company also thinks it is important for the board to “reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld.” Clegg noted that, under the Oversight Board’s charter, the decisions it makes are binding and, allegedly, cannot be overruled by Zuckerberg “or anyone else at Facebook.”

Critics have long called on Facebook and others to ban Trump to stop the spread of misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric, and some have blame the violent insurrection at the Capitol — as well as Trump’s 2016 election victory — on social media. Other observers have blasted the moves by Facebook, Twitter and internet companies to deplatform Trump as an infringement on political speech.

“Whether you believe the decision was justified or not, many people are understandably uncomfortable with the idea that tech companies have the power to ban elected leaders,” Clegg wrote. Facebook agrees that private companies “shouldn’t be making these big decisions on their own,” he added, echoing Zuckerberg’s past calls for clear government regulations that govern social media. “It would be better if these decisions were made according to frameworks agreed by democratically accountable lawmakers,” Clegg continued. “But in the absence of such laws, there are decisions that we cannot duck.”

Meanwhile, last week, Facebook announced a ban on the phrase “stop the steal” from Facebook and Instagram under its Coordinating Harm policy. Facebook said company has already removed a “significant number of posts” that included “stop the steal,” a rallying cry among pro-Trump election denialists, although company execs said, “It may take some time to scale up our enforcement of this new step.”

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