Facebook Says Trump's 'Indefinite' Suspension Is Now Two Years Off The Platform, And Then It'll See If He'll Behave
from the i-mean,-it's-something dept
In case you’ve been living under a rock for all of 2021, following the January 6th mob attack at the Capitol, where then President Donald Trump went to social media and posted things that could be read as egging on his insurrectionist followers, Twitter and Facebook suspended Trump’s accounts. A few weeks later, the still relatively new and untested Oversight Board that will review a few Facebook decisions agreed to review the Trump decision. In late April, it upheld the removal, but said that Facebook’s decision being for an “indefinite” length violated the company’s own policies, and told the company it needed to either put a time limit on it, or come up with an actual rationale for a permanent suspension.
Last week, Facebook announced its response: the suspension would now be officially for two years — but that doesn’t mean Trump will automatically get his account back (just in time to ramp up his 2024 campaign…).
We are today announcing new enforcement protocols to be applied in exceptional cases such as this, and we are confirming the time-bound penalty consistent with those protocols which we are applying to Mr. Trump?s accounts. 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. We are suspending his accounts for two years, effective from the date of the initial suspension on January 7 this year.
At the end of this period, we will look to experts to assess whether the risk to public safety has receded. We will evaluate external factors, including instances of violence, restrictions on peaceful assembly and other markers of civil unrest. If we determine that there is still a serious risk to public safety, we will extend the restriction for a set period of time and continue to re-evaluate until that risk has receded.
When the suspension is eventually lifted, there will be a strict set of rapidly escalating sanctions that will be triggered if Mr. Trump commits further violations in future, up to and including permanent removal of his pages and accounts.
As is alluded in that snippet, the company also announced an official policy that applies “heightened penalties for public figures during times of civil unrest and ongoing violence.” Just the fact that this needs to be its own category of content moderation policies should tell you something about the complexity of coming up with policies that can be equally applied across all situations. Every situation is different, and no policy is going to take into account all context. Two years is the new maximum suspension under this policy:
In establishing the two year sanction for severe violations, we considered the need for it to be long enough to allow a safe period of time after the acts of incitement, to be significant enough to be a deterrent to Mr. Trump and others from committing such severe violations in future, and to be proportionate to the gravity of the violation itself.
Of course, the Oversight Board tasked Facebook with much more than just putting a timeline on Trump’s suspension and Facebook buried all the details beneath the headline grabbing “two years!” announcement.
Most of those policies focus on how the company deals with high profile and influential users who are violating its policies, and how it handles whether or not certain user speech is “newsworthy” or not. In particular, politicians will no longer receive an automatic assumption that all their speech is newsworthy. Instead, that speech will be judged in the same way as anyone else’s speech for newsworthiness — or so Facebook claims. In all reality, the actual lesson in all of this is that it’s not possible to judge things equally. There is always additional context that makes each situation somewhat unique.
So, honestly, the only real end result here is that politicians won’t receive the assumption of newsworthiness and seem more likely to face suspensions under these new policies.
For another view on the details of how Facebook dealt with this, read Evelyn Douek’s analysis, in which she suggests that Facebook is basically doing the least possible that it can, which is allowed under the somewhat weak charter it put on the Oversight Board. Many people have highlighted how weak that charter is, but this may have been the first time it’s been put to the test, and shows that when Facebook really doesn’t want to commit to serious change, it has ways to avoid it. I’m less convinced that’s the true outcome here, and honestly given how the Oversight Board has acted so far, I suspect that this weakish response from Facebook is only likely to embolden the Oversight Board to continue to hammer the company over its failures, even if Facebook wants to avoid committing to real change in response.