Facebook's independent Oversight Board just upheld the social network's ruling to suspend former President Donald Trump's social media account, adding that it needs to review the decision again after six months pass, according to the board's official web page.
Facebook and other social media companies' growing role in politics
The ruling was just upheld, but the decision could fundamentally transform the role social media companies play in politics. But this decision comes with a caveat: Facebook may need to rethink the ban's "indefinite" nature.
This is a colossal development that comes on the heels of Trump's previous initial suspension from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms in the wake of the early January Capitol event — which Trump stands accused of inciting. "The Board has upheld Facebook's decision on Jan. 7 to suspend then-President Trump from Facebook and Instagram," read the statement from the Oversight Board on Wednesday. "Trump's posts during the Capitol riot severely violated Facebook's rules and encouraged and legitimized violence." The board also said it wasn't "appropriate" for the social media juggernaut 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," said the board in its statement, adding that it "insists 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 suggested policies intended to help Facebook develop "clear, necessary, and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression." CEO Facebook Mark Zuckerberg also said that company employees are incapable of overturning Wednesday's decision, according to a report from Insider.
Local governments fighting Big Tech on social media 'deplatforming'
Facebook launched the independent board late in 2020 to expand content moderation decisions as the company's proprietary "Supreme Court" — and this is its first Trump-adjacent ruling. As for the former president, he said he's going to launch his own social media platform. Regarding the social media model of communication between politicians and constituents, Trump's allies said they privately consider Facebook to be "essential" to the former president's chances at running for office in 2024. "Getting this account back is not only essential for his future political viability," said an anonymous source close to the former president in an Axios report. "It would be an undoing of an unjust act by a social media company that made an ad hoc ruling to deplatform a sitting president."
Politics aside, the surging power of social media platforms over governmental offices is absolutely reshaping our social reality. And some political agents are not pleased by the development. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will likely sign a new bill into law intended to prevent social media companies like Facebook, Google's YouTube, and Twitter from "deplatforming" politicians — including Donald Trump, according to a recent report from USA Today. The bill was signed last week in a Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.
The new law would require social media firms to publish their standards with fleshed-out definitions of when a person is censored or blocked — in addition to fining companies who block or deplatform a Florida candidate $250,000. So far, social media companies haven't banned very many political actors from their networks, but with four "illegal" bans any social media company would be dishing out one million dollars — a hefty expense. GOP lawmakers in Florida have argued the new legislation is needed to reduce the influence social media companies have flexed over national political discourse.
Local government moves against 'deplatforming' are contested
"What this bill is about is sending a loud message to Silicon Valley that they are not the absolute arbiters of truth," said Republican Rep. John Snyder, from Florida's Port St. Lucie region, in a Wednesday report from NBC News. "What this bill does is send a loud message that the Constitution does not have an asterisk that says only certain speech is free and protected." But, obviously, this bill — and its underlying political perspective — doesn't exist in a vacuum. "This bill abandons conservatives values, violates the First Amendment, and would force websites to host antisemetic, racist, and hateful content," said Carl Szabo, general counsel to and vice president of the trade group NetChoice, in the USA Today report. "Content moderation is crucial to an internet that is safe and valuable for families and Floridian small businesses, but this bill would undermine this important ecosystem."
Social media's growing political power is reshaping the world. Since its relatively modest role in former President Barack Obama's initial 2008 campaign, it's become powerful enough to remove a Commander-in-Chief from what has effectively become the new public commons. Whatever we think of people like Donald Trump or their policies, it stands to reason that when it comes to actions this significant — if Twitter, Facebook, and other social media companies can deplatform what is arguably the most powerful office in the world, they can do it to anyone. Granted, it's hard to disagree with the removal of online personalities or people who antagonize or threaten the possibility of a healthy democracy. Ultimately we don't have the answers, but the operative question here is whether the ends will always justify the means.
This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.