Facebook's oversight board has decided to maintain Donald Trump's suspension from the platform in a long-awaited opinion. But it also criticized the company for using an "indeterminate and standardless penalty" and insisted that Facebook "justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform."
Trump was given the boot after he encouraged the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in which five people died. But Facebook cringed from decisive action, gaming its own rules to keep him at arm's length without permanently banning him from the site.
The Board found that the two posts by Mr. Trump on January 6 severely violated Facebook's Community Standards and Instagram's Community Guidelines. "We love you. You're very special" in the first post and "great patriots" and "remember this day forever" in the second post violated Facebook's rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence.
The Board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump 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. As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence. The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram.
Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump's accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7.
In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities. The Board declines Facebook's request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.
This seems, at first glance, a good "ruling", inasmuch as Facebook is obliged to act on it. Trump is still gone, but the pressure is on for Facebook to actually have rules that are applied consistently and fairly, instead of vague, arbitrary policies that serve only the most immediate corporate priorities and make everything bad for everyone.