By Jeff Horwitz
Facebook Inc.'s independent oversight board ruled Wednesday that
the company was justified in suspending then-President Donald Trump
but added that it must decide in the coming months whether he is
permanently locked out of Facebook and Instagram.
The board determined that two posts from Mr. Trump on Jan. 6
following the attack on the U.S. Capitol "severely violated" the
platforms' community standards, but that it wasn't appropriate for
the company to assess an indefinite suspension with no criteria for
when the account will be restored. It called for Facebook to review
the decision and make a new determination about the status of Mr.
Trump's accounts within the next six months.
Facebook was among social-media companies that suspended his
accounts following the Capitol attack by a pro-Trump mob, with
Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg saying the suspension was important
to reduce the risk of violence through the inauguration of
President Biden. The company later referred the suspension to the
oversight board as the company grappled with how to treat one of
its highest-profile users after his exit from public office.
Here is what the ruling means for the relatively new panel that
is unique among social-media companies and why the decision will be
closely scrutinized by users, politicians and other platforms.
Why did Facebook suspend Mr. Trump?
Facebook said it found that two posts by the former president
violated the company's rules against praise and support for the
riot at the Capitol. In a video posted to Facebook and an
accompanying post, Mr. Trump reiterated unsubstantiated claims
about election fraud and, while encouraging the rioters to go home
peacefully, implied that their actions stemmed from justifiable
Facebook ruled that content was prohibited, and Mr. Zuckerberg
said Mr. Trump was seeking "to undermine the peaceful and lawful
transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden."
But questions remain about the timing and rationale of Mr.
Zuckerberg's decision, with critics alleging the company was
stifling free speech or that the former president was banned to
appease the incoming Democratic administration.
In a statement after the Oversight Board's decision was
released, Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs,
said the company would "consider the board's decision and determine
an action that is clear and proportionate."
What is the oversight board and why was it created?
Funded by Facebook through an endowment established in 2019, the
oversight board is designed to help the company tackle its
thorniest content-moderation issues and make policy
The board operates like a Supreme Court for content; the company
can refer cases or individual users can submit petitions for the
board to consider. The board considers whether Facebook erred in
removing content or accounts from its platforms or left intact
content that should have been taken down under company rules.
Facebook has pledged to abide by the panel's decisions.
The oversight board made its first rulings earlier this year and
showed a willingness to overturn the company's past
Who is on the board and how did they get there?
The board's 20-person roster has a lot of lawyers -- with
human-rights advocates, former politicians and journalists as well.
Facebook chose the initial members, who then took over the job of
selecting their peers with an eye to geographic diversity. Facebook
has said the panel could eventually have as many as 40 members.
How are board decisions made?
The board hears cases on a rotating basis, with five-judge
panels ruling on whether Facebook correctly applied its own rules
by removing -- or leaving up -- a particular piece of content. The
names of which five members are adjudicating the ban on Mr. Trump
are to remain secret, as is standard board procedure.
Once the five members reach a decision, a majority of the full
board must vote to approve it. If a majority of the board were to
disagree with the decision, the case would be sent back to another
panel, starting the process again.
In the case of Mr. Trump, the board determined that it wasn't
"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." It gave Facebook six months to determine whether
Mr. Trump should be permanently banned, and it put the company on
the line to more clearly articulate its rules for prominent
individuals and develop penalties for violators.
Does Facebook have to accept the board's decision?
Yes. The oversight board has the final say on the individual
pieces of content that it reviews, as well as the ability to offer
broader recommendations and criticisms. Facebook previously said it
would abide by the board's content decisions. However, the company
has discretion on whether to implement any policy
Meanwhile, Facebook over the past few weeks prepared Madison
Avenue for the long-anticipated ruling. The company reached out to
advertising agencies in calls and emails to describe the board's
process and emphasized that its management team had no sway over
the board's decision, ad executives said.
How did other social-media platforms handle Mr. Trump?
Social-media platforms including Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube,
Twitter Inc. and Facebook suspended Mr. Trump's accounts in the
wake of the riot.
Twitter, which Mr. Trump frequently used throughout his
presidency, has said its ban on the former president was permanent.
Amazon.com Inc.'s Twitch disabled Mr. Trump's channel. YouTube CEO
Susan Wojcicki said in March that the platform would reinstate Mr.
Trump's account when it was "safe" to do so.
How is Mr. Trump communicating with his supporters now?
By Mr. Trump's standards, he has been quiet. The former
president has endorsed congressional candidates and lambasted
opponents -- including Democrats and Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell -- via press release and interviews, generally on Fox
News. He also maintains a direct line to his supporters via his
campaign email database, through which he is fundraising for his
The former president has so far stayed away from upstart
social-media networks aimed at conservatives, the most prominent of
which is Parler. Email has become his go-to communication tool.
In a statement about Wednesday's ruling, Mr. Trump called
Facebook as well as Twitter and Google "a total disgrace," adding
that "these corrupt social media companies must pay a political
price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our
--Alex Leary contributed to this article.
Write to Jeff Horwitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 05, 2021 19:37 ET (23:37 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.