WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Facebook Oversight Board today upheld the decision to ban President Donald Trump from the tech giant’s platform following the Jan. 6 insurrection. Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, released the following statement in response.
“It was right to remove Donald Trump from Facebook’s platform. Facebook’s Oversight Board has determined that the decision was justified but that an indefinite suspension is overly discretionary. The Oversight Board has now charged Facebook with deciding if Trump should be allowed to return in the future. Trump should not be allowed to return.
“We believe that content moderation decisions are hard. But if Facebook is going to engage in content moderation, then it should apply its standards uniformly. There is no doubt that Trump routinely, repeatedly, and brazenly violated those standards. While Trump’s posts on Jan. 6 in the middle of an insurrection may have caused the most immediate harm, they were part of a years-long series of posts that merit permanent suspension. We agree with the minority of the board that ‘emphasizes that Facebook’s rules should ensure that users who seek reinstatement after suspension recognize their wrongdoing and commit to observing the rules in the future.’
“The primary mitigating factor counseling against disabling Trump’s account was that he was an elected official – a factor that we agree is consequential, because it confers a legitimacy on a figure and adds weight to the presumption that every person’s content should be shared. But that factor no longer applies; and, in any case, Trump’s violations of Facebook’s standards – and, fundamentally, the real-world harm he caused with his social media posts – were so far-reaching and severe that he should have been removed from Facebook even as president.
“Content moderation decisions are difficult because they require weighing competing values, placing short statements and posts in a wider social context, and difficult line drawing. In its community standards, Facebook references many important values. Cutting across those values is consideration of whether a post or a Facebook member is causing harm – that’s the primary rationale for removing a post or shuttering a person’s account. Even then, competing factors must be weighed.
“Donald Trump caused enormous harm with his posts. That’s the reason he should not be allowed to return to the platform. The issue is not that Donald Trump is a bad person, said offensive things, lied routinely or advocated reactionary policies – though all those things are true. The issue is that Trump’s Facebook and social media posts – individually and in combination – caused direct harm to people and to our democracy.
“Hate Speech: Trump routinely engaged in hate speech as generally understood and as defined in Facebook’s standards. This was consequential hate speech. Hate crimes in the U.S. soared during Trump’s tenure, and there’s good reason to believe that horrifying reality is connected to Trump’s hateful social media posts.
“Anti-Democracy and Violence: Trump continually assaulted core features of American democracy in his social media posts, especially in the run up to the 2020 election and its aftermath. He undermined faith in election integrity through propagation of lies, directly violating Facebook’s rules on voter interference and prohibition on misrepresentation of whether votes will be counted.
“His post-election social media rants propagated the Big Lie that he actually won an election that he lost overwhelmingly. Those posts not only weakened U.S. democracy severely, they led directly to the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Fomenting violence also violates Facebook’s community standards.
“Lest the passage of time permit doubts to emerge as to what Trump actually did, recall Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’ statement after the impeachment trial: ‘There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President. And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.’
“Removing Trump from social media platforms cauterized the democratic wound. It led to a dramatic plummet in the overall volume of social media disinformation about the 2020 election, with one analysis identifying an almost three quarters decline.
“Pandemic Denial: Trump’s social media posts casting doubt on the seriousness of COVID-19, touting false treatments and disparaging crucial mitigation measures directly undermined adherence to public health measures needed to contain the pandemic and thereby led directly to needless death and suffering. Kaiser Health News and Politifact labeled COVID denialism – spouted preeminently though not only by Trump – as the ‘Lie of the Year’ for 2020.
“Trump’s constant spewing of COVID misinformation caused enormous real-world harm, in violation of Facebook’s updated standards related to the pandemic. The legacy of that COVID denialism is an unmerited vaccine skepticism that may well prevent the U.S. from ever achieving herd immunity.
“In a better world, Facebook’s decision would not be as momentous as it is. In a better world, no one platform would have such immense influence and such power through its algorithms, advertising and network effects to amplify dangerous speech. That’s one reason Facebook should be broken up.
“However, even with a more democratic and decentralized social media landscape, individual platforms would have to confront hard content moderation decisions. And if ever faced with a future Donald Trump, they too should decide to remove such a person from participating in their community.”