By Paul Ziobro and Jeff Horwitz
Facebook Inc. said it is suspending Donald Trump's accounts for
two years, formalizing a long-term penalty for the former U.S.
president after its independent Oversight Board said the company
was wrong to keep the ban open-ended.
The move immediately inflamed the long-running partisan debate
over how much control tech companies should have over online
speech. With Mr. Trump also banned permanently from Twitter,
Facebook's penalty closes one of his primary avenues for
influencing the political discussion for an extended period.
Facebook said it would revisit the suspension two years from the
date of its initial move to suspend him on Jan. 7, the day after
the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Assuming he is then reinstated, Mr.
Trump will face a "strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions" if
he commits further violations, including permanent removal of his
pages and accounts, the company said.
"Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump's
suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation
of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the
new enforcement protocols," wrote Nick Clegg, the company's vice
president of global affairs, in a blog post on Friday.
In an emailed statement after the announcement, Mr. Trump said
Facebook's ruling was an insult to the millions of people who voted
for him in 2020. "They shouldn't be allowed to get away with this
censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win. Our Country
can't take this abuse anymore!" he said.
In a follow-up statement, Mr. Trump added: "Next time I'm in the
White House there will be no more dinners, at his request, with
Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. It will be all business!"
Mr. Trump and his advisers are considering a range of options
that they hope will restore his online megaphone, The Wall Street
Journal has reported.
Facebook said it was grateful that the Oversight Board agreed
with the decision to suspend Mr. Trump in the first place, and said
it accepted that it needed to put in better protocols for such
actions. The company said it either had already enacted or would
put in place the board's recommendations for greater transparency
in when it penalizes high-profile figures and when it chooses to
grant exemptions from its normal enforcement. It also said it was
working to offer users clearer explanations of why they were being
punished when they break Facebook's policies.
In responding to the board's criticism, Facebook also opens the
door for more, as the company will now be required to make more
subjective decisions on whether posts from political figures
violate its rules surrounding misinformation, hate speech and other
issues that are hotly debated. Those judgment calls are likely to
escalate partisan complaints around whether the company is being
fair in how it applies the rules.
"We know today's decision will be criticized by many people on
opposing sides of the political divide," Mr. Clegg said in the post
on Friday, adding that "our job is to make a decision in as
proportionate, fair and transparent a way as possible, in keeping
with the instruction provided by the Oversight Board."
Facebook created and funded the Oversight Board to independently
rule on the company's toughest content decisions, and the Trump
suspension is by far its most high-profile case to date.
White House press secretary Jen Paski told reporters on Friday
that decisions about whether to ban users should be left to the
companies that run the platforms.
"Our view continues to be, though, that every platform, whether
it's Facebook, Twitter, any other platform that is disseminating
information to millions of Americans has a responsibility to crack
down on disinformation, to crack down on false information, whether
it's about the election or even about the vaccine," she said.
Of Mr. Trump, she said: "It feels pretty unlikely that the zebra
is going to change his stripes over the next two years. We'll
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has long held a stance
of largely not interfering with politicians' posts on its platform,
saying that it wasn't up to the company to rule on what is true and
In 2016, the company set out a policy that exempted from
punishment posts that violate its rules if it classifies the
content as newsworthy or otherwise important to the public
interest. Two years ago, amid growing controversy over posts by Mr.
Trump, Facebook extended that newsworthiness exemption to posts
from politicians, and said it would exclude their content from its
third-party fact-checking process.
On Friday, Facebook said it would no longer consider posts from
politicians newsworthy by default but would make its own judgments
about those that qualify, and then label those that merit the
Facebook's move Friday came a month after the Oversight Board
ruled that the social-media giant was justified in suspending Mr.
Trump over posts in which he urged his followers to go to the
Capitol as lawmakers were certifying President Biden's win. But it
said the company must better explain its reasoning if it decides to
permanently ban him from its platforms.
In the ruling, the board gave Facebook six months to determine
whether Mr. Trump should be permanently banned.
"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," the board said in the
Other companies have grappled with similar issues, and enacted
different approaches. Twitter Inc. also grants special privileges
to world leaders, and those rules allowed Mr. Trump to remain a
prominent user of the platform throughout his administration, even
as the company affixed many of his tweets with warning labels. The
company banned him entirely after the Capitol riot and, unlike
Facebook, isn't planning to review that decision further.
YouTube, a unit of Alphabet Inc., has said it doesn't grant
politicians exemptions from its rules for newsworthiness. The
company also suspended Mr. Trump's account in January and has said
it would reinstate him when it concludes the risk of further
violence has abated, though it has offered no explanation of how it
will make that determination.
The pressure on tech companies is ratcheting up globally, with
governments including India and Russia tightening controls over
what speech is allowed.
In a statement Friday, the Oversight Board said it was
encouraged by Facebook's moves and believes they will result in
more consistency and transparency in the way the company polices
its platforms. The board "intends to hold the company to account on
its commitments," the statement said.
One of the few points of disagreement was in regards to the
board's questions and criticism of a program called Crosscheck,
under which Facebook reviews potential violations by high-profile
accounts through a separate process from that used for regular
users. The board has requested more information about the program
and had asked Facebook to produce a public analysis of whether it
produced more lenient outcomes. Facebook said that the program
doesn't grant special privileges but called the board's request not
--Andrew Restuccia contributed to this article.
Write to Paul Ziobro at Paul.Ziobro@wsj.com and Jeff Horwitz at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 04, 2021 18:25 ET (22:25 GMT)
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