Oversight Board co-chair says Facebook can’t “invent sanctions for their users” after body orders review of Trump ban

The Facebook Oversight Board is calling on the social media giant to review its own policies connected to its indefinite ban against former President Trump. Facebook shut down the former president’s account, over posts it claims incited violence that led to the January 6 Capitol riot. Board co-chair and former Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt called Facebook’s decision an “arbitrary penalty.”

“What we have said is basically less about Mr. Trump, and more about Facebook and the rights of users,” she told “CBS This Morning” co-host Tony Dokoupil shortly after the ruling. “Facebook can’t just sit and invent sanctions for users. All users have the same rights to transparency and not have sanctions invented as they go.”

The Oversight Board, an independent international body consisting of 20 lawyers, professors, journalists and human rights activists, upheld Facebook’s suspension of Mr. Trump’s account. But the body said Facebook’s indefinite suspension was “indeterminate and standardless” and ordered the social media giant to review the matter within the next six months.

Thorning-Schmidt told Dokoupil that the Oversight Board’s members examined both Facebook’s own community standards as well as the human rights standards Facebook has said it wants to abide by.

“One thing that we found interesting in this case is when we asked Facebook whether they had applied their news-worthiness criteria to this case, to Mr. Trump’s case, they said they had not,” she said. “That made us think, ‘When do they actually apply this news-worthiness criteria? Do they ever use it?’ And what we are asking Facebook is to be more public and transparent about does it exist, this news-worthy criteria? And when do they use it?”

Speaking at a press conference after the decision was announced, Thorning-Schmidt explained the board’s reasoning.

“Facebook’s initial suspension of President Trump was correct. That’s very clear, but also we’re saying that an indefinite ban was not acceptable,” she had said. 

Thorning-Schmidt said the body’s decision to support Mr. Trump’s initial ban from the social media site was a difficult one, but one that was “very, very clear.”

“Mr. Trump’s content actually created harm, real-life harm,” she said.

However, she said Facebook’s regulations and penalties should be applied to users equally.

“Indefinite ban doesn’t exist in Facebook’s own community standards so we told Facebook to not come to us with something that doesn’t exist in their own rules,” Thorning-Schmidt said.

Thorning-Schmidt, herself a former world leader from 2011 to 2015, said Facebook should “use their own standards” to apply a more specific penalty on Mr. Trump and to hold all world leaders to that standard.

“It should be possible for Facebook to make a new decision based on their own rules,” she said. “Facebook has actually got standards, they can give strikes to users, they can permanently close a user’s account. They can also give a time-bound sanction and then say to the users, ‘You can come back.'”

Pressed about what’s to stop Facebook from disregarding the board’s decision and doing nothing, she assured, “They can’t do nothing, because we have given them six months to react. And the reason why we gave them six months is because we don’t want to push them into hasty decisions.”

However, should Facebook request further review upon making their decision on Mr. Trump’s account, Thorning-Schmidt said the board was ready to look at it again. But, she said Facebook should be able to make its own decision.

“I actually would suggest that with the recommendations that we have given to date, it should be possible for Facebook to make a new decision based on their own rules.”

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