Facebook’s Oversight Board, an independent body colloquially described as Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” has upheld the company’s decision to suspend then-President Donald Trump’s Facebook account due to posts he made during the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021. They ruled that, while the suspension itself was justified, the indefinite length was not and must be reassessed within the next six months.

On January 6, Facebook removed two posts from Trump’s account for expressing support for those rioting at the Capitol and for potentially encouraging further violence. The following day, Facebook suspended Trump’s account indefinitely. On May 5, the Oversight Board upheld the post removals and account suspension, but called the indefinite nature of the ban inappropriate and “standardless.”

NCAC agrees that, in the absence of immediate threat of harm, the public must be allowed access to the speech of political leaders. Facebook functions as a core part of our public square and Trump remains an influential political leader. It is imperative that people hear his views in order to assess them for themselves, particularly if he once again becomes a presidential candidate.

More details of the ruling:

The Oversight Board called on Facebook to follow its own procedures, which include content removal, time-bound account suspensions and account deletions, but do not allow for indefinite bans. Additionally, they insisted that Facebook create clear, proportionate penalties for severe content violations.

The Oversight Board also weighed in on the question of how to handle the speech of political leaders, when it has serious potential to cause harm. They stressed that “context matters when assessing the probability and imminence of harm” and that Facebook should “publicly explain the rules that it uses when it imposes account-level sanctions against influential users.” Further, they argued that when Facebook imposes time-limited suspensions on influential users’ accounts, they should assess the continued risk of significant harm before the suspension ends and extend it if necessary, but that the time frame and decision-making process should be clear to the public.

Additional recommendations from the Oversight Board include:

  • Rapidly escalating political speech from highly influential users to specialized staff familiar with the context.
  • Dedicating adequate resources and expertise to assessing risks of harm from influential accounts globally.
  • Providing more information on the newsworthiness allowance, including how it applies to influential accounts.
  • Informing users with information on how many violations, strikes and penalties they have accumulated, and the potential future consequences.
  • Publishing a policy on how the company will handle novel crises where its regular policies would not prevent imminent harm.

The full Oversight Board decision can be read here.