On May 5, 2021, the Facebook Oversight Board announced that it had made a decision regarding former U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban from the social network. As this news circulated, many people rushed to social media (and television) with incorrect statements about the board’s decision.
On Fox News, for example, a chyron briefly appeared that stated: “Facebook Oversight Board Bans Trump for Life.” The Twitter account for Newsmax also posted a message stating that “Facebook has decided to permanently ban former President Donald Trump from its platform.”
But Trump has not been banned for life from Facebook. Yet.
On Jan 6. 2021, a violent mob stormed the Capitol in an attempt to delay the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory spurred on in part by the multitude of election falsehoods that Trump had peddled. In the days after the attack, several social media networks announced that they were banning Trump to prevent him from posting messages that could encourage further violence.
Twitter, for instance, announced that they had “permanently suspended [Trump’s] account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
Facebook made a similar announcement. However, Facebook said that they were banning Trump’s account for an “indefinite” period of time (not permanently) as they believed he would continue to use his account to “undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor.” A few weeks later, Facebook announced that it had formed an independent Oversight Board that would review the merits of Trump’s suspension:
We believe our decision was necessary and right. 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. While we await the board’s decision, Mr. Trump’s access will remain suspended indefinitely. We look forward to receiving the board’s decision — and we hope, given the clear justification for our actions on January 7, that it will uphold the choices we made. In addition to the board’s determination on whether to uphold or overturn the indefinite suspension, Facebook welcomes any observations or recommendations from the board around suspensions when the user is a political leader.
On May 5, Facebook’s Oversight Board announced that it upheld Facebook’s initial decision to suspend Trump’s account. However, the board did not state that this ban should be permanent. Rather, the board said that it was “not appropriate” for Facebook to suspend Trump’s account for an indefinite period of time and gave Facebook six months to determine if Trump’s account should be permanently banned.
The Facebook Oversight Board wrote:
The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account.
However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.
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. Facebook must complete its review of this matter within six months of the date of this decision. The Board also made policy recommendations for Facebook to implement in developing clear, necessary, and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression.
In other words, while Trump is still banned from Facebook, that could change (or could be made permanent) within six months.