The decision is a subtle rebuke to Facebook’s earlier decision
Facebook’s oversight board ruled today “to uphold the social network’s ban of former President Donald J. Trump”, ending all speculation about the return of Trump to his former social media glory. But the board also decided to leave the door slightly open for Mr. Trump to make a comeback at a later date.
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.
What is Facebook Oversight Board?
Facebook Oversight board is a quasi-court that oversees the company’s content decisions. The 20 member board consists of political leaders, human rights activists, and journalists selected by Facebook to keep a close eye on how the company decides “what content should be removed or allowed for what reasons”.
The panel’s decisions to confirm or revoke Facebook’s content decisions are binding on Facebook. —
The formation of the panel was a smart decision by Facebook, as it allows the company to sidestep any accusation of biased content policy. As such, the decision over Trump will be the first big litmus test for the panel and Facebook.
Half-Hearted Decision or a Well-Informed One
Though the panel decided to uphold Facebook’s decision to suspend Mr. Trump in January due to his use of the Facebook account to foment the insurrection, the board also noted that an indefinite suspension was not appropriate.
The board was correct to point Facebook in the right direction when they addressed Facebook’s normal penalties which include removing the content, impose a time-bound suspension or permanently disable the account.
In a call with reporters, Micheal McConnell, Co-Chair of the Oversight Board said, “Our sole job is to hold this extremely powerful organization, Facebook, to be held accountable”. He added that the ban on Mr. Trump “did not meet these standards”. And the oversight board has indeed taken issue with Facebook’s decision to leave Mr. Trump’s Facebook account in suspended reality.
No legal system that operates within the bounds of democracy will ever conclude that once a sinner is always a sinner. Mr. McConnell does have a valid case, but the decision places Facebook in an extremely difficult spot, as it forces Facebook to take concrete action.
Where does the decision leave Trump?
Facebook and Twitter are the two social networks that amplify Trump’s reach. No other platform can come close to the kind of breadth, scale, and reach these two can offer. Parler is doing what it can to be a third alternative, but in the world of Technology, there is no middle ground. You are either at the top or you are at the bottom.
Twitter has already announced that it has permanently barred Trump from using the platform ever again.
After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence. — Twitter 8th January, 2021
Facebook is the only platform that offers Donald Trump a straightforward tool to reach millions inside and outside the United States. By upholding Facebook’s decision to suspend Trump in January, the oversight board has cleared Facebook of any bias.
By asking Facebook to take a permanent decision within six months, the board has given Facebook enough time on its hands to make a decision and stay with it forever. The Oversight board’s decision may look as if they have left the door open for Trump to make a comeback, but the truth is, they have asked Facebook to stop hiding in the closet.
If you can read between the lines, it becomes clear what the board is asking Facebook to do: Either allow Trump back on the platform or permanently ban him from the Platform.
Over to Facebook now.