Facebook’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump was upheld by Facebook’s oversight board on Wednesday.
The two posts in question included Trump, who was president at the time, saying on Jan. 6 that his supporters were “very special.”
Facebook Oversight Board Director Thomas Hughes claimed during an appearance on MSNBC that the suspension of Trump “was necessary to keep people safe.”
Trump, who has called his comments in the wake of the Capitol breach appropriate, said in a statement that what Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done “is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country.”
“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,” he added.
The board also found that Facebook inappropriately termed the suspension “indefinite.”
“It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored,” the board said, adding that Facebook did not follow clear, published procedures that outline either suspending an account for a certain period of time or permanently.
“In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities. The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty,” the board said.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to answer when it would be announcing the period of time Trump’s account will be suspended. In a statement, the company said: “We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate. In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended.”
The board’s decision was supposed to come within 90 days of Jan. 21, when Facebook referred the ban to its board, but board members wanted more time to mull their choice, given the 9,000+ public comments they received.
Republican lawmakers had urged the board to overturn Facebook’s suspension, while Democrats largely declined to weigh in on the issue or endorsed the ban.
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday called the board’s decision “pathetic.”
“Facebook made an arbitrary decision based on its political preferences and the Oversight Board, organized and funded by Facebook, re-affirmed its decision. The American people should fear any company that sees itself as so powerful it establishes a biased, quasi-judicial entity to adjudicate our First Amendment rights,” added Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.).
But Democrats said they agreed with the decision.
“I support the FB Oversight Board’s nuanced decision to uphold the suspension which is consistent with the principles I have articulated to balance ethical community standards with user speech,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
“The Facebook Oversight Board’s decision is a small act of accountability, but this cannot be where it ends. The Jan. 6 attack must be fully investigated. There must be accountability for the insurrectionists and those who continue to push the Big Lie,” Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) added.
Mike Davis, founder and president of the Internet Accountability Project, a conservative nonprofit that seeks to hold Big Tech accountable, said the board decision was not surprising. “Facebook is essentially acting as prosecutor, defender, judge, jury, appellate court and executioner. No one company should have the power to effectively block a president from communicating with the American people,” he said in a statement.
Five members of the board reviewed the case. Their decision needed to be signed off by a majority of the board.
The Facebook Oversight Board was established last year. The board has broad powers and can overrule Facebook, essentially serving as a court.
“Facebook will implement the board’s decisions unless doing so could violate the law, and will respond constructively and in good faith to policy guidance put forth by the board,” Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications for the California-based technology giant, said in a statement last year.
Clegg said in January that Facebook hoped the board would uphold its suspension of Trump’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram, which the tech giant owns.
Google’s YouTube suspended him that same month, but has kept open the possibility of allowing him to regain access.
Trump has derided the Big Tech actions as censorship, noting that the platforms have banned a number of conservatives.