Facebook Refers Trump Account Suspension to Oversight Board -- 2nd Update
By Sarah E. Needleman
Facebook Inc. has referred its decision to indefinitely suspend
the accounts of former President Donald Trump to its outside
oversight board, as the company grapples with how to treat one of
its highest-profile users after his exit from public office.
Earlier this month the social-media giant moved to disable Mr.
Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts for at least two weeks,
after he encouraged protests of the election results and his
supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a Jan. 6 attack that left
five dead. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said at the time that
the risks of Mr. Trump's use of the platforms through Inauguration
Day were too great.
"We believe our decision was necessary and right," said Nick
Clegg, Facebook's communications and policy chief, in a blog post
Thursday, one day after the swearing-in of President Joe Biden.
"Given its significance, we think it is important for the board to
review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be
Mr. Trump has condemned the violence but defended his conduct
ahead of the riot, which followed a monthslong effort to advance
baseless claims of a rigged election. He faces a second impeachment
trial in the Senate on a charge of inciting insurrection.
Bipartisan political leaders including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.,
Ky.) have said publicly that Mr. Trump provoked the riot through
his online and offline rhetoric.
Facebook said the former president's accounts would remain
suspended while five members of the 20-person oversight board
determine whether certain posts he made before the riot had
violated the company's community standards and values.
They will also determine whether Facebook's removal of those
posts respected international human-rights standards. The board --
which has been likened to a Supreme Court for content decisions --
is an independent group of academics, lawyers and human-rights
advocates from around the world.
The five people hearing the case will be chosen at random and
won't be identified publicly so they can focus on doing their job,
said John Samples, an oversight board member and vice president of
the Cato Institute, a public-policy think tank. Mr. Samples said
that at least one of the five participants would be from North
America because the matter pertains to a user there.
A majority of the board must sign off on the final decision,
which is expected to be delivered within the next three months.
World leaders, members of Congress and Facebook's social-media
peers will pay close attention to the board's verdict, said Avery
Gardiner, general counsel at the nonprofit Center for Democracy
"There's such an interest right now in figuring out how to
handle content-moderation issues online," she said. "The more we
can have open dialogue about how social-media companies make these
decisions, the better off we all are to decide where we want to
consume news and other information."
Social-media companies based in Silicon Valley have long fielded
complaints that their content-moderation decisions have been not
only uneven but targeted unfairly against conservatives. That
scrutiny increased around the November presidential election as
platforms tried to curb the spread of misinformation.
Mr. Trump, whose Facebook account has more than 35 million
followers and whose Instagram account has nearly 25 million, has
frequently criticized social-media companies' power -- typically
through Twitter Inc.'s platform, where he had more than 88 million
followers before the company permanently suspended him earlier this
Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube, Snap Inc.'s Snapchat and Amazon.com
Inc.'s Twitch also placed limits on Mr. Trump's accounts, while
online stores run by the Trump Organization and Trump campaign were
taken offline by Shopify Inc., an e-commerce software provider. In
addition, dozens of U.S. corporations halted all political giving
and some said they would reconsider donating money from their
political-action committees to Republican lawmakers who supported
Mr. Trump's attempt to overturn the election results.
Facebook's oversight review of Mr. Trump's accounts mark the
biggest issue the oversight board has addressed since it was
established last year to help Facebook make the final call on
difficult content decisions. Although Facebook created the board
structure and funds salaries for board members, Mr. Zuckerberg
can't overrule the panel's decisions, nor can anyone else at the
During the review, Mr. Trump will have the opportunity to submit
a statement to the panel on why he believes Facebook's
content-moderation decisions should be overturned, the company
said. Members of the public will also be able to share their
perspectives with the oversight panel as soon as next week.
Some prominent conservatives have responded to the social-media
companies' moves by announcing plans to switch to platforms with
less stringent content restrictions such as Parler, Gab and Wimkin.
Parler has been working to return its social network online after
several tech companies including Amazon.com Inc. dropped their
support for the company, citing too-loose rules around content
Write to Sarah E. Needleman at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 21, 2021 16:54 ET (21:54 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.