Facebook's oversight board on Wednesday upheld the company's decision to suspend former President Donald Trump's account following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. However, the board found it was "not appropriate" for Facebook to impose an indefinite suspension and asked the company to review the decision within the next six months.
"The Board insists that Facebook review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform," the decision stated.
The board described Facebook's decision to suspend Trump's account indefinitely as a "vague, standardless penalty" that is not described in the social media company's content policies.
"Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account," the decision stated.
The board outlined a number of recommendations for how Facebook can handle potentially harmful content from influential accounts, including employing specialized staff who can evaluate political speech.
In responding to the board's decision, Facebook pointed out that it does not require Trump's accounts to be restored immediately but also does not address how long they should be suspended.
"Instead, the board criticized the open-ended nature of the suspension ... We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate. In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended," Facebook said.
An 'emergency situation'
Facebook originally moved against Trump’s account as the attack on the Capitol was unfolding.
Earlier that day, Trump and his associates helped galvanize his supporters during a rally in which he repeatedly lied about the outcome of the 2020 election, and called on former Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the election results.
Later, as his supporters were attacking police and vandalizing lawmakers’ offices, Trump posted a video to his Facebook page telling the rioters to go home, while simultaneously continuing to spread lies about the 2020 election. He also told supporters “we love you, you’re very special.” After posting the video, Trump again posted to his account, telling his followers to “remember this day forever.”
Facebook took down the video an hour after it was posted, citing an “emergency situation.”
The next day, on Jan. 7, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that allowing Trump to continue to use the platform to condone the actions of his supporters at the Capitol was too dangerous and suspended the then-president indefinitely.
'An extreme measure'
Politicians and business leaders have been split over Facebook’s decision with some like billionaire investor Mark Cuban saying that the move was Facebook’s to make. “Social Media networks are not utilities,” Cuban told Yahoo Finance in a February interview. “It’s their decision.”
Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, meanwhile, told Yahoo Finance that a permanent ban would be an “extreme measure” and “a shame.”
In a March survey of 11,698 Yahoo Finance readers, 77% of self-identified Republicans said Trump should be allowed back on the platform, while 75% of Democrats called for suspension to stand.
Facebook and fellow social media company Twitter (TWTR), which permanently banned Trump on Jan. 8, have received considerable blowback from their treatment of the former president. Republicans in Congress have pounded on the issue as another example of what they describe as a conservative bias, though no evidence of such a coordinated effort has ever been brought forward.
The ruling by Facebook’s oversight board is considered final with even Zuckerberg unable to overrule the group’s decision. Made up of an international team of experts including lawyers, journalists, Nobel laureates, and former political leaders, the oversight board’s independence has been criticized because each member receives a salary from an independent trust funded by Facebook to the tune of $130 million, according to the New Yorker.
Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.
Dan Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter@DanielHowley.