Facebook retains ban on Donald Trump but signals further review

Former US president was denied access to his account after Capitol riots in January

Facebook’s ban on former US president Donald Trump was upheld on Wednesday by its oversight body, but the decision may be reassessed by the company within the next six months.

In a widely-anticipated announcement with big implications for how political figures are policed by social media companies, Facebook’s oversight committee said it upheld the company’s move to suspend Mr Trump from the platform in January, noting that his comments on the day of the January 6th Capitol riots “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible”.

However, it gave the company six months to reassess the decision, criticising the platform for taking the decision without clear criteria.

“Within six months of this decision, Facebook must re-examine the arbitrary penalty it imposed on January 7th and decide the appropriate penalty,” the panel said in its announcement. “This penalty must be based on the gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm. It must also be consistent with Facebook’s rules for severe violations, which must, in turn, be clear, necessary and proportionate.”

While the decision keeps Mr Trump off the platform for now, it effectively pushes the decision on whether to readmit him in the long term back to the company and its founder Mark Zuckerberg.

In the decision announced on Wednesday morning, Facebook’s oversight board, an independent entity created and funded by the company, upheld the ban but said the decision should not have been “indefinite”. “It was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension,” it stated.

Facebook was the first social media company to suspend Mr Trump in the wake of the January 6th riots by the then president’s supporters. Mr Zuckerberg then said that Mr Trump would be suspended “indefinitely”.

Twitter also banned Mr Trump and said later that the ban would be permanent.

The decisions by social media companies deprived Mr Trump of his favoured channels for communicating with followers and the wider public.

New platform

On the eve of Wednesday’s announcement, Mr Trump launched a new communications platform, which is a blog-like website. While users can like or share the posts on their own Facebook or Twitter accounts, they are unable to post comments directly on the site.

Following criticism, Trump adviser Jason Miller said that the site was not a new social media platform – “we’ll have additional information coming on that front in the very near future”– but a “great resource to find his latest statements and highlights from his first term in office”.

The Facebook oversight board is made up of experts in the field of journalism, social media and misinformation. It is appointed and funded by Facebook, but the company insists it is a third-party, independent body.

The board had been expected to rule on the case last month, but asked for an extension on April 16th.

“We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate,” said Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg. “In the meantime, Mr Trump’s accounts remain suspended.”

Shortly after the announcement, Mr Trump issued a statement through his office reiterating unsubstantiated claims about election fraud in last year’s presidential election and lambasting Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney.

It comes as several senior Republicans in Congress publicly broke with Ms Cheney, who has refused to accept Mr Trump’s claim that the election was fraudulent.

It appears increasingly likely that Ms Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, will face a no-confidence vote on her leadership of the Republican conference in Congress.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent