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Trump Ban From Facebook Is Approved By The Oversight Board

SAN FRANCISCO – A Facebook-appointed panel of journalists, activists and lawyers decided on Wednesday to uphold former President Donald J. Trump’s ban through the social network. This ended any immediate return of Trump to mainstream social media and renewed a debate about tech power via online language.

Facebook’s oversight board, which acts as the court for the company’s substantive decisions, said the social network rightly banned Mr Trump after using the website to spark a riot in Washington in January. The panel said the continued risk of violence “justified” the suspension.

However, the board also said that an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate” and that the company should apply a “defined penalty”. The board gave Facebook six months to make its final decision on Mr. Trump’s account status.

“Our only job is to hold this extremely powerful organization, Facebook, accountable,” said Michael McConnell, co-chair of the Oversight Board, on a call with reporters. Mr. Trump’s ban “did not meet these standards,” he said.

The decision makes it difficult for Mr Trump to re-enter the mainstream social media media he used during his years in the White House to persuade, set guidelines, criticize opponents and anger his tens of millions of followers. Twitter and YouTube also cut Mr Trump off after the Capitol uprising in January, saying the risk of harm and the potential for violence he caused were too great.

Although Mr Trump’s Facebook account remains suspended for the time being, he may still be able to return to the social network once the company reviews its measures. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump unveiled a new website, “From Donald J. Trump’s Desk,” to communicate with his supporters. It looked like a Twitter feed with posts from Mr. Trump that could be shared on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Mr Trump’s representatives did not immediately return requests for comment.

Mr. Trump’s continued Facebook suspension gave conservatives, who long accused social media companies of suppressing right-wing voices, new fuel against the platforms. Mark Zuckerberg, the executive director of Facebook, has testified several times in Congress in recent years whether the social network has shown bias towards conservative political views. He denied it.

In a tweet, Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee said of the board’s decision: “Pathetic.”

Democrats aimed at how Facebook could be used to spread lies. Frank Pallone, chairman of the House’s Energy and Trade Committee, tweeted, “Donald Trump has played a huge role in spreading disinformation on Facebook, but whether he’s on the platform or not, Facebook and other social media platforms do too The same business model will find ways to highlight divisive content in order to generate ad revenue. ”

The decision underscored the power of tech companies to determine who can say what online. While Mr. Zuckerberg has said that he doesn’t want his company to be “the arbiter of truth” in social discourse, Facebook has become increasingly active on the types of content it allows. To prevent the spread of misinformation, the company has cracked down on QAnon conspiracy theory groups, polling gaps, and content against vaccination for the past few months, before leading to Mr Trump’s lockdown in January.

“This case is having a dramatic impact on the future of online language as the public and other platforms examine how the Board of Directors will deal with a difficult controversy that will recur around the world,” said Nate Persily, professor at Stanford University Law School .

He added, “President Trump has moved the envelope on legal speech on these platforms and set the outer boundaries so that if you are not ready to pursue him, you will allow a great deal of incitement and hate speech and disinformation online others will spread. “

In a statement, Facebook said it was “pleased” that the board recognized that Mr. Trump’s January lockdown was warranted. The company added that it would review the ruling and “establish a clear and proportionate measure”.

The case of Mr Trump is the most prominent one that the Facebook Oversight Board, conceived in 2018, has dealt with. The board, made up of 20 journalists, activists and former politicians, reviews and evaluates the company’s most controversial decisions regarding the moderation of content. Mr. Zuckerberg has repeatedly referred to it as the “Facebook Supreme Court”.

Although positioned as independent, the body was founded and funded by Facebook and has no legal or enforcement agency. Critics were skeptical of the board’s autonomy, saying it gave Facebook the ability to make tough decisions.

Each of his cases is decided by a five-person panel chosen from the 20 members of the Board of Directors, one of whom must be from the country from which the case originates. The committee examines the comments on the case and makes recommendations to the entire board, which decides with a majority of votes. After a decision is made, Facebook has seven days to respond to the board’s decision.

Since the board began issuing decisions in January, it has overturned Facebook’s decisions in four of the five cases it examined. In one case, the board asked Facebook to restore a post in which Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis’ head of propaganda, made a reference to the Trump presidency. Facebook had previously removed the post because it “advertised dangerous people,” but it was in line with the board’s decision.

In another case, the board ruled that Facebook had gone too far by removing a post from a French user who falsely suggested that the drug hydroxychloroquine could be used to cure Covid-19. Facebook restored the post but also said the incorrect information would continue to be removed according to instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

In Trump’s case, Facebook also asked the board to make recommendations on how to deal with the accounts of political leaders. On Wednesday, the board suggested that the company should publicly explain when it would apply special rules for influential people, although it should set specific deadlines in doing so. The board also said Facebook should explain its strike and punishment process more clearly and develop and publish a policy regulating responses to crises or novel situations in which its regular processes would not prevent impending harm.

“Facebook was clearly abused by influential users,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, co-chair of the Oversight Board.

Facebook doesn’t have to accept these recommendations, but has said it will “examine them carefully”.

For Mr. Trump, Facebook has long been a place to gather his digital base and support other Republicans. He was followed by more than 32 million people on Facebook, although this was far fewer than the 88-plus million followers he had on Twitter.

Over the years, Mr Trump and Mr Zuckerberg also had an irritable relationship. Mr Trump regularly attacked Silicon Valley executives for suppressing conservative language. He also threatened to revoke Section 230, a legal shield protecting companies like Facebook from liability for what users post.

Mr Zuckerberg on occasion criticized some of Mr Trump’s policies, including how to deal with the pandemic and immigration. But as calls from lawmakers, civil rights activists, and even Facebook’s own staff increased to contain Mr Trump on social media, Mr Zuckerberg declined to act. He said the speeches given by political leaders, even if they are telling lies, were timely and in the public interest.

The two men appeared cordial even at occasional meetings in Washington. Mr Zuckerberg visited the White House more than once and dined privately with Mr Trump.

The courtesy ended on January 6th. Hours before his supporters stormed the Capitol, Mr Trump used Facebook and other social media to cast doubts on the results of the presidential election he lost to Joseph R. Biden Jr. Trump wrote on Facebook, “Our country has had enough, them won’t take it anymore! “

Less than 24 hours later, Mr Trump was banned from the platform indefinitely. While his Facebook page stayed active, she slept. His last Facebook post on January 6th read: “I ask everyone in the US Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! “

Cecilia Kang contributed to coverage from Washington.

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