Trump remains locked out of Facebook.
On Wednesday, Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld former President Donald Trump’s suspension from the social media platform following the events in January’s riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Facebook’s Oversight Board said 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 insisted that Facebook review the matter further to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform.
The Board said in its announcement that Facebook must complete its review of this matter within six months of the date of this decision. It also made policy recommendations for Facebook to implement in developing clear, necessary, and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression.
One of the major contentions from free speech advocates is that the social media giant was stifling the voice of the United States President, even if it disagreed with the message. Facebook’s Oversight Board addressed that, saying such high ranking government officials have greater power to cause harm.
“The Board noted that heads of state and other high officials of government can have a greater power to cause harm than other people,” the Board stated. “If a head of state or high government official has repeatedly posted messages that pose a risk of harm under international human rights norms, Facebook should suspend the account for a period sufficient to protect against imminent harm. Suspension periods should be long enough to deter misconduct and may, in appropriate cases, include account or page deletion.”
U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Republican Member, Mississippi’s Senator Roger Wicker, issued a statement on the decision, saying today’s announcement is another reason why Congress should act on Big Tech’s influence and Section 230.
“This decision further illustrates the concentrated control Big Tech exerts over speech and why Congress should act to curb its dominance,” Wicker said. “Justice [Clarence] Thomas’s recent opinion suggesting that powerful online platforms should be treated as common carriers offers a sound basis for legislation that would bring accountability to this industry. I will continue working with my colleagues to protect speech and the diversity of viewpoints online.”
Senator Wicker chaired a hearing in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Section 230 in late 2020 when Republicans were in the majority. The hearing examined whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has outlived its usefulness in today’s digital age. Wicker said then that the Big Tech platforms were disproportionately affecting conservatives and their speech.
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to vacate a lower court’s ruling involving former President Trump’s Twitter account. That lawsuit claimed that Trump had violated the Constitution when he blocked some followers from his Twitter account, saying he was violating their First Amendment rights. The Court ordered that the federal appeals court dismiss the case as moot since Trump is no longer President.
“Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors. Also unprecedented, however, is the concentrated control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties,” Justice Thomas opined in his concurrence. “We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms… Much like with a communications utility, this concentration gives some digital platforms enormous control over speech.”
Facebook says it established the Oversight Board to promote free expression by making principled, independent decisions regarding content on Facebook and Instagram and by issuing recommendations on the relevant Facebook company content policy. Board members are selected from across the globe from a diverse set of disciplines and backgrounds, the company says. To review the Board’s members, click here.