The Facebook Oversight Board argued that Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud created an environment “where a serious risk of violence was possible.”
“At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions,” the board wrote. “As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence.”
Facebook must act within their existing rules and either restore Trump’s account, ban him permanently, or put a time limit on his suspension, Michael McConnell, co-chairman of the oversight board, said on a call with reporters. The board recommended that within six months, Facebook review its conduct and make a clear decision, he said.
Facebook’s own policies do not authorize an indefinite suspension, and users must not be left in a “state of uncertainty” about whether their accounts will be restored, McConnell said.
Trump did not immediately react to the ruling, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted that Facebook “is more interested in acting like a Democratic” super PAC than “a platform for free speech and open debate,” echoing conservatives’ concerns over what they see as a liberal bias coming from Silicon Valley.
Facebook had asked the oversight board, an independent group of academics, lawyers and others, to review its decision to suspend Trump and determine whether it should be overturned. The company had previously committed to acting at the board’s recommendation.
But the board ruled that even though Facebook was justified in suspending Trump’s account given the seriousness of the violations with his Jan. 6 posts before the insurrection, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an “indefinite” suspension.
“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.
Within six months of this decision, the board suggested that Facebook re-examine the arbitrary penalty it imposed on Jan. 7 and decide the appropriate penalty. It said the company should balance the penalty against the prospect of future harm and it must be consistent with Facebook’s own rules.
“In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities,” the board said, adding that it “insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.”
The decision comes at a time when social-media platforms are facing increasing scrutiny over their handling of political content and disinformation, which has prompted lawmakers from both parties to take aim at a prized liability shield that protects the tech giants from lawsuits over content posted by users.
McCarthy said that if Republicans take control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections, they will “rein in big tech power over our speech.”
The measure—just 26 words known as Section 230—now faces its biggest reckoning since it was included in the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Calls to revise it grew in the months before the November election and intensified after the deadly attack on Congress by Trump loyalists.
Trump was also banned from Twitter in January, a move that the company has said is permanent. He was also blocked on Snapchat, YouTube and Twitch, among other networks, following the Capitol riots.
Losing access to social media is a blow for Trump politically—especially from Twitter, which was his favorite means of communicating and where he had 89 million followers—because it meant he was largely silent in the weeks after he left office on Jan. 20.
A return to social media would have given Trump a broader platform as he supports state and local candidates who were loyal to him, or those he’s backing to defeat fellow Republicans who voted to impeach him. Trump is also holding out the prospect he could run for president again in 2024.
Trump said in an April 29 interview on Fox Business that he was “100%” considering running again in 2024 and that he’s “very, very strongly –- times ten –- considering to do what everybody wants me to do.” He also said on the Don Bongino Show podcast released on April 28 that he’ll announce his decision “most likely right after” the 2022 midterm elections.
In the meantime, Trump is raising money for his political operation through the leadership political action committee Save America and already has amassed more than $85 million, a Trump adviser has said.
The former president has also said he wants to create his own social-media platform that will prevent him from being removed or censured but hasn’t provided any details.