Facebook's Oversight Board decided Wednesday morning to uphold the site's ban of former President Donald Trump's account -- but the Board also ordered a new review of the "indefinite suspension" to take place within six months, leaving the door open slightly for a future Trump reinstatement.
Trump slammed the decision as "a total disgrace."
"What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country," he said in a statement. "Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth, but the truth will come out anyway, bigger and stronger than ever before.
"The People of our Country will not stand for it! These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our Electoral Process."
The determination by the Board also applies to social app Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
"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," the Board said.
But the Board added:
"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."
The Board's lengthy statement was not signed by any individual members. The Trump decision was prepared by an anonymous five-member panel and "approved by a majority of the Board," Facebook said.
"Facebook is more interested in acting like a Democrat Super PAC than a platform for free speech and open debate," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., tweeted on Wednesday. "If they can ban President Trump, all conservative voices could be next. A House Republican majority will rein in big tech power over our speech."
The leading social media sites suspended Trump’s accounts — each of which attracted legions of followers and detractors eager to amplify or castigate the 45th president’s every pronouncement — soon after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol breach.
Twitter, in particular, had been ramping up its policing of the then-sitting president’s account for months after the November election, saddling many of his tweets with disclaimers and warnings, and, in an unprecedented move, locked and then suspended Trump’s account on Jan. 6. Facebook’s move to suspend Trump’s account came the next day, close on Twitter’s heels.
Twitter announced on Jan. 8 it had permanently suspended Trump’s account, but Facebook dragged out the process.
On Jan. 21, Facebook VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg wrote that Trump’s indefinite suspension on that platform and Instagram would be referred to the Oversight Committee.
"The board was established last year to make the final call on some of the most difficult content decisions Facebook makes," Clegg wrote in the post. "It is an independent body and its decisions are binding — they can’t be overruled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg or anyone else at Facebook."
The drama over social media silencing a sitting president — who remains a leading contender to run for the office again in 2024 — has morphed into a clarion call for many Republicans, especially those who may already have been wary of the power of social media companies.
Congressman and senators in recent months have frequently railed at the power to limit information amassed by social media companies, and discussion of what can be done to stop the slide on the slippery slope has even reached the Supreme Court.
"We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in an April dissent that suggested the highest court in the land may soon step in to the fray.
Trump was relatively quiet after leaving the White House on Jan. 20, but in the past few months has reemerged as a force within GOP politics.
Aides close to Trump have frequently floated talk of the former president starting his own social media company, but Trump has also found workarounds to the bans — releasing short, often tweet-sized statements that are then posted countless times by reporters, fans, and critics — that have allowed him to maintain a presence on Facebook and Twitter.
Trump told Heather Childers on Newsmax TV’s "American Agenda" last month that social media companies have not succeeded in stifling his voice.
Said Trump: "They haven’t silenced me."
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