On June 4, Facebook announced that former President Donald Trump would be suspended from the platform for a period of two years and that his account would only be reinstated “if conditions permit.” Trump and other Republicans criticized the censorship move as an attack on free speech.
Trump’s Facebook account was initially blocked by the platform on Jan. 7, a day after the Capitol breach. In May, the Facebook Oversight Board upheld the decision but stated that it was “not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension.”
The two-year suspension had an effective start date of Jan. 7, 2021. After the suspension period is over, the company may extend the ban “If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety.”
The oversight board includes a member linked to China’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), which conducts influence operations for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) overseas. A report by The National Pulse states that the board is “95% Anti-Trump” and three-quarters non-American.
In a June 4 statement on behalf of the company, Nick Clegg, VP of Facebook’s Global Affairs, said that they are “grateful” that the Oversight Board backed its original decision to suspend Trump.
“Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols,” the statement read.
Clegg claimed that the Oversight Board upheld the Trump ban “following his praise for people engaged in violence at the Capitol on January 6.” However, the claim was unsubstantiated. Trump said in his Jan. 6 speech, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Initiatives against censorship
“Facebook‘s ruling is an insult to the record-setting 75M people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election… They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win. Our Country can’t take this abuse anymore!” Trump said in a statement issued by his Save America political action committee.
In another statement, Trump took a dig at Facebook’s founder. “Next time I’m in the White House there will be no more dinners, at his request, with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. It will be all business!”
Regarding the ban, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that social media companies have the responsibility to crack down on disinformation and that “It feels pretty unlikely that the zebra is going to change his stripes over the next two years.”
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks accused big tech of being a “tool of the Democrat party,” and added that the two-year suspension is aimed at “meddling in our elections,” reported New York Post.
Republican Senator Bill Dougherty tweeted that big tech is “out of control.” He warned that these companies would continue censoring Americans and “trample” on free speech unless Congress acts quickly.
“Despite recently being exposed for wrongly banning and suppressing information regarding the origins of COVID-19, Facebook is now doubling down on its censorship playbook, which is why I will continue to push to pass my 21st Century FREE Speech Act to put the American people back in charge,” Dougherty said in the tweet.
Dougherty’s 21st Century FREE Speech Act [S.1384] seeks to abolish Section 230, which is being used as a “license for companies like Facebook and Twitter to censor.” The bill would require networks to disclose their moderation and content management practices to users.
Last month, Republican Senator Josh Hawley stated that Facebook’s monopoly powers must be challenged and that its self-policing measures and independent boards are distractions. The company claims to have allowed content deemed newsworthy to remain on the platform even if “Community Standards” were violated.
Facebook has a new policy targeting public figures, who may be suspended for up to two years if they are ruled to have incited unrest or violence. The platform said that it would not treat content posted by politicians “any differently from content posted by anyone else.”
All content will be evaluated based on whether its “public interest value” outweighs “the potential risk of harm.” Based on the data, Facebook will decide to retain or remove the information, and whether or not to de-platform the individual.