Facebook vice president Nick Clegg says the company is referring its decision to indefinitely suspend former President Trump from its platform to its newly established oversight board for a complete review. Trump’s Facebook account was suspended indefinitely on January 7th after he incited his followers to attack the US Capitol on January 6th. Six people died in the ensuing riots.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the time that “the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service… are simply too great.”
“We believe our decision was necessary and right,” Clegg said in a statement. “Given its significance, we think it is important for the board to review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld.”
The oversight board, established last year, is intended to provide an appeals process for Facebook’s content moderation decisions. The oversight board took its first six cases in December. The board’s decisions can’t be overruled by Zuckerberg or anyone else at the company.
The oversight board said in a statement Thursday that it had agreed to take the case. “The Oversight Board has been closely following events in the United States and Facebook’s response to them, and the Board is ready to provide a thorough and independent assessment of the company’s decision,” the statement reads.
Trump’s account will remain suspended indefinitely, Clegg said in a news release pending the board’s decision. He outlined Facebook’s reasoning:
Our decision to suspend then-President Trump’s access was taken in extraordinary circumstances: a US president actively fomenting a violent insurrection designed to thwart the peaceful transition of power; five people killed; legislators fleeing the seat of democracy. This has never happened before — and we hope it will never happen again. It was an unprecedented set of events which called for unprecedented action.
Clegg said the reaction to Facebook’s decision showed the balance it and other companies have faced when dealing with the former president and other public figures. “Some said that Facebook should have banned President Trump long ago, and that the violence on the Capitol was itself a product of social media; others that it was an unacceptable display of unaccountable corporate power over political speech,” he wrote. Politicians, he added, “remain subject to our policies banning the use of our platform to incite violence.”
Facebook joined other social platforms that banned the former president after the Capitol attack. Twitter, perhaps Trump’s favorite platform, began with a temporary suspension of @realDonaldTrump that later became a permanent one. Twitter said it took the action “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Snapchat and Twitch also banned the former president’s accounts, and Shopify took down the Trump campaign store, a main source of the “Make America Great Again” hats and other merch.
For the entirety of his presidency, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms had resisted calls to ban Trump for using their platforms for everything from threatening violence to attempting to undermine the November presidential election. Twitter and Facebook applied labels to false messages from the former president that seemed to do little to deter him.
Clegg acknowledged that there’s an argument to be made whether private companies like Facebook should make such decisions on their own. “We agree. Every day, Facebook makes decisions about whether content is harmful, and these decisions are made according to Community Standards we have developed over many years,” he said. “It would be better if these decisions were made according to frameworks agreed by democratically accountable lawmakers. But in the absence of such laws, there are decisions that we cannot duck.”