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Facebook Oversight Committee Upholds Former President Donald Trump's Suspension; Company Gets 6 Months To Determine If Ban Is Permanent

MENLO PARK (CBS SF) -- Facebook's Oversight Board ruled Wednesday the social media platform was right in suspending former President Donald Trump's account in the wake of comments associated with January's Capitol insurrection but told the company it needs to reconsider a permanent ban.

In a news posting, the committee said: "The Board has upheld Facebook's decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump's access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account."

"However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension. Facebook's normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account."

"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 its review of this matter within six months of the date of this decision. The Board also made policy recommendations for Facebook to implement in developing clear, necessary, and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression."

The former President posted his response to the decision on his online blog.

"What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country. 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."

Trump's accounts were suspended for inciting violence that led to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riots. After years of treating Trump's inflammatory rhetoric with a light touch, Facebook and Instagram silenced his accounts on Jan. 7, saying at the time he'd be suspended "at least" through the end of his presidency.

"We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote at the time.

The board found that two posts, in particular, supported the decision to ban him from the two social media platforms.

At 4:21 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, as the riot continued, Trump posted a video on Facebook and Instagram:

"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, especially the other side, but you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don't want anybody hurt. It's a very tough period of time. There's never been a time like this where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us, from me, from you, from our country. 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."

At 5:41 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Facebook removed the post for violating its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations.

At 6:07 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, as police were securing the Capitol, Trump posted a written statement on Facebook:

"These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love in peace. Remember this day forever!"

At 6:15 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Facebook removed the post for violating its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations.

Board members found that the two January 6th posts "severely violated Facebook's Community Standards and Instagram's Community Guidelines."

"We love you. You're very special" in the first post and "great patriots" and "remember this day forever" in the second post violated Facebook's rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence.

The oversight board also found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, the further president "created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible."

While it upheld the current ban, the board also noted, "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."

"Facebook has up to six months to reconsider this matter and the period of time should indicate that we expect this to be a deliberative process," said Michael McConnell, co-chair of the oversight board. "This should not be a rushed and hurried decision, it ought to be one made fully on the basis of all the considerations and evidence."

"So I do think this is designed to relieve some of that pressure and draw attention away ... and make it appear that Facebook is doing something," said technology consultant Ashkan Soltani, former U.S. Federal Trade Commission CTO under President Barack Obama.

Soltani says the oversight board, made up of 20 experts from around the world in human rights, free speech, and journalism, is a circus since they are paid and selected by Facebook. The board has no legal authority to make Facebook do anything.

Trump has 60 million followers on Facebook and Instagram combined, and Ashkani says that kind of audience is too profitable for Facebook to ignore.

Ashkani says we will see some form of government regulation of Facebook and other social media platforms within our lifetime.

"So if our governments can't restrict the ability of companies to post and censor speech, we might be able to say, 'Well, you can't monetize intentionally on harmful and decisive content,'" said Ashkani. "While everyone has a right to speak, you don't have a right to sell harmful goods."


Kiet Do contributed to this report.

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