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Facebook Oversight Board Upholds Ban On Donald Trump


Facebook does not have to let former President Donald Trump back on its social network. The company's Oversight Board has upheld its ban of Mr. Trump, which was put in place after a mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond has been following the story. She's with us now. And before we begin, just to note that Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters. Shannon, tell us more about this decision from the Oversight Board. What'd they say?

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: So they said that Facebook was justified in suspending Trump, that his comments at that time around the Capitol raised the risk of violence, and so that was a justified action. But what the panel took issue with is that Facebook suspended Trump indefinitely. And that is not something that's in Facebook's normal rules. And the board said, look; you have to make a decision. You have to kind of set a more clear penalty. So the board has given Facebook six months to either ban Trump permanently, reinstate him or, you know, make very clear what the terms of a suspension would be, how long that would be.

MARTIN: So does that mean that it wasn't actually the job of the Oversight Board to determine if Donald Trump should be banned permanently?

BOND: Well, what the board kind of said was that it felt a bit like Facebook was trying to punt this decision by giving this indefinite suspension. You know, it described it as a vague and standardless penalty. And it said sort of that Facebook was trying to avoid its responsibilities, that it was going to weigh in on, you know, whether this was correct to suspend him, but the idea of an indefinite suspension is just something that doesn't exist in Facebook's rules. Here's what board co-chair Michael McConnell said this morning just now in a call with reporters.


MICHAEL MCCONNELL: It referred the entire matter to the Oversight Board, apparently hoping that the board would do what it had not done - namely, decide on an appropriate and proportionate conclusion regarding the future of Mr. Trump's account.

MARTIN: I mean, it seems like Facebook's pointing to the Oversight Board saying, you make the call, and the Oversight Board is pointing to Facebook saying, no, you do it.

BOND: Yeah. And, I mean, I think we need to remember here that this Oversight Board was created and funded by Facebook. It is, you know, it is an advisory board to Facebook. Ultimately, the decision is back in Facebook's hands, which is really where it was always in the first place, right?

MARTIN: Can you just remind us about the origin of that? I mean, as you note, Facebook is funding this thing, right?

BOND: That's right. So Facebook created this board as - the idea is it's a final arbiter of the hardest calls that the company makes about the content that users post. And it launched it last year with this roster of 20 international experts that are specialists in law and human rights. There's a Nobel Peace laureate, the former prime minister of Denmark. And it said the decisions would be binding. But it is funded by Facebook through an independent trust. And this Trump decision is seen as a real test of sort of the legitimacy, just exactly how independent it is - you know, this board that, again, is created and funded by the company.

MARTIN: Right. OK, so now we've got the board's decision. Have we actually heard from the company itself? Have we heard from Facebook?

BOND: Facebook says it's going to, you know, do what the board has asked - you know, review this and make a decision. So I guess it's - again, the can is sort of kicked down the road, and we're going to have to wait and see in six months.

MARTIN: Has former President Trump responded to this?

BOND: He has not yet, although he did launch a new blog yesterday, so maybe he will be posting about it.

MARTIN: And implications for other political leaders - do we know yet?

BOND: Well, that sort of remains to be seen. The board has issued recommendations to Facebook basically asking for more transparency, saying it needs to more clearly apply how its policies apply to influential accounts, including political leaders. So they'll be on notice.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's tech correspondent Shannon Bond, thank you so much.

BOND: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.