NEW YORK—The Facebook Oversight Board today upheld Facebook’s decision to suspend former President Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts but criticized the company’s “standardless” decision to ban Trump indefinitely. The decision came after the board reviewed Facebook’s decision to indefinitely suspend Trump’s accounts following the siege of the Capitol on January 6. In February, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University urged the board to delay ruling on Trump’s suspension until Facebook commissions an independent study into how its design decisions may have contributed to the siege.
“The board’s ruling is thoughtful and persuasive,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute. “Facebook was justified in suspending Trump from its platform but wrong to ban him permanently without reference to clear and determinate standards. Other aspects of the board’s ruling are important as well. We’ve previously called on Facebook to investigate the role its design and engineering decisions may have played in amplifying Trump’s speech, and in contributing to the events of January 6. We’re glad to see the board make the same recommendation here.”
After Facebook asked the Oversight Board to review the suspension of Trump’s accounts, the board invited public comment on the issue. The Knight Institute’s submission argued that Facebook should “adopt a heavy presumption in favor of leaving political speech up, in keeping with the principle that ‘debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.’” It also argued, however, that the board should not address the question of whether Facebook was justified in suspending Trump until Facebook commissions an independent investigation into the ways in which its design decisions may have contributed to the events of January 6. The submission explained, “Trump’s statements on and off social media in the days leading up to January 6 were certainly inflammatory and dangerous, but part of what made them so dangerous is that, for months before that day, many Americans had been exposed to staggering amounts of sensational misinformation about the election on Facebook’s platform, shunted into echo chambers by Facebook’s algorithms, and insulated from counter-speech by Facebook’s architecture.”
“We’re encouraged by today’s ruling, but continue to have concerns about the limits that Facebook has placed on the board’s authority and Facebook’s efforts to use the board as a fig leaf,” said Katy Glenn Bass, research director at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “A lot turns on how Facebook responds to the ruling, especially because Facebook does not view the board’s recommendations as binding.”
Read the Knight Institute’s Oversight Board submission here.
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