Last month, the Oversight Board upheld Facebook’s suspension of former US President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts following his praise for people engaged in violence at the Capitol on January 6.
But in doing so, the board criticized the open-ended nature of the suspension, stating that “it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.” The board instructed FB to review the decision and respond in a way that is clear and proportionate and made a number of recommendations on how to improve the policies and processes.
Facebook announced new enforcement protocols to be applied in exceptional cases such as this, and FB is confirming the time-bound penalty consistent with those protocols which FB is applying to Mr. Trump’s accounts. Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, FB believes his actions constituted a severe violation of the rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols. FB is suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year.
At the end of this period, FB will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded. FB will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If FB determines that there is still a serious risk to public safety, FB will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.
When the suspension is eventually lifted, there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts.
In establishing the two-year sanction for severe violations, FB considered the need for it to be long enough to allow a safe period of time after the acts of incitement, to be significant enough to be a deterrent to Mr. Trump and others from committing such severe violations in future and to be proportionate to the gravity of the violation itself.
FB are grateful that the Oversight Board acknowledged that the original decision to suspend Mr. Trump was right and necessary, in the exceptional circumstances at the time. But they absolutely accept that FB did not have enforcement protocols in place adequate to respond to such unusual events. Now that FB has them, FB hope and expect they will only be applicable in the rarest circumstances.
FB know that any penalty FB apply — or choose not to apply — will be controversial. There are many people who believe it was not appropriate for a private company like Facebook to suspend an outgoing President from its platform, and many others who believe Mr. Trump should have immediately been banned for life. FB knows the decision will be criticized by many people on opposing sides of the political divide — but the job is to make a decision in as proportionate, fair and transparent a way as possible, in keeping with the instruction given to FB by the Oversight Board.
Of course, this penalty only applies to the services — Mr. Trump is and will remain free to express himself publicly via other means. The approach reflects the way FB try to balance the values of free expression and safety on the services, for all users, as enshrined in the Community Standards. Other social media companies have taken different approaches — either banning Mr. Trump from their services permanently or confirming that he will be free to resume use of their services when conditions allow.
Accountability and Transparency
The Oversight Board’s decision is accountability in action. It is a significant check on Facebook’s power and an authoritative way of publicly holding the company to account for its decisions. It was established as an independent body to make binding judgments on some of the most difficult content decisions Facebook makes, and to offer recommendations on how FB can improve the policies. As today’s announcements demonstrate, FB takes its recommendations seriously and they can have a significant impact on the composition and enforcement of Facebook’s policies.
Its response to this case confirms the view that Facebook shouldn’t be making so many decisions about content by itself. In the absence of frameworks agreed upon by democratically accountable lawmakers, the board’s model of independent and thoughtful deliberation is a strong one that ensures important decisions are made in a transparent and judicious manner as possible. The Oversight Board is not a replacement for regulation, and FB continues to call for thoughtful regulation in this space.
FB is also committing to being more transparent about the decisions FB make and how they impact the users. As well as the updated enforcement protocols, FB is also publishing the strike system, so that people know what actions the systems will take if they violate the policies. And earlier this year, FB launched a feature called ‘account status’, so people can see when content was removed, why, and what the penalty was.
In response to a recommendation by the Oversight Board, FB is also providing more information in the Transparency Center about the newsworthiness allowance and how FB apply it. FB allow certain content that is newsworthy or important to the public interest to remain on the platform — even if it might otherwise violate the Community Standards. FB may also limit other enforcement consequences, such as demotions, when it is in the public interest to do so. When making these determinations, however, FB will remove content if the risk of harm outweighs the public interest.
FB grant the newsworthiness allowance to a small number of posts on the platform. Moving forward, FB will begin publishing the rare instances when FB apply it. Finally, when FB assess content for newsworthiness, FB will not treat content posted by politicians any differently from content posted by anyone else. Instead, FB will simply apply the newsworthiness balancing test in the same way to all content, measuring whether the public interest value of the content outweighs the potential risk of harm by leaving it up.
Along with these changes, FB has also taken substantial steps to respond to the other policy recommendations the board included in their decision. Out of the board’s 19 recommendations, FB is committed to fully implementing 15. FB is implementing one recommendation in part, still assessing two recommendations, and taking no further action on one recommendation.
Read more from the below TAGS
People also reading-