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Friday, June 25, 2021

Explained: Reading Facebook Oversight Board decision on Donald Trump ban

Although the oversight board has agreed with Facebook's decision, it has also said that the punishment meted out to Trump was unfair and that the platform must justify its decision again after reviewing it.

Written by Aashish Aryan , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: May 7, 2021 7:30:17 am
What are the rules for politicians and state heads on social media platforms? (Reuters Illustration)

An independent Oversight Board of social media conglomerate Facebook Wednesday held that the platform had rightly restricted the former president of the US Donald Trump from accessing his page and posting content on it after the Capitol Hill violence.

Trump had been banned indefinitely by Facebook from posting or accessing his page on January 7.

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What did the oversight board say in its decision to uphold Facebook’s ban on Trump?

In its decision, though the oversight board upheld Facebook’s move to bar Trump from accessing his page and posting any content on the platform, it also said the social media giant must review the matter to determine and justify “proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform”.

The independent oversight board found that two posts on Facebook by the former US president had violated Facebook’s and Instagram’s community standards and guidelines. On his posts on Facebook, Trump had called people who had been engaged in violence in the Capitol Hill “great patriots”, who were “very special” and that they would “remember” that day forever. These words, the oversight body said, violated Facebook’s rule wherein it prohibits any praise or support of people engaged in violence in real life.

“The Board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible. At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions,” the oversight body said in its decision.

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What are the rules for politicians and state heads on social media platforms?

While all social media platforms have different rules, a common understanding is that nearly all politicians and state heads with considerable following get more relaxation than ordinary users.

Though Facebook and Twitter both hold politicians running for any public office or any incumbent politicians holding a public office accountable for their posts, the two platforms also allow politicians to post content which other ordinary users may not necessarily be able to post and get away with.

For example, despite Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro posting on Facebook that the indigenous people of the country were “evolving and becoming more human”, the leader continues to remain active and post on the platform.

Similarly, in India, despite Twitter flagging down posts of leaders from mainstream parties, including the BJP, for violence and disseminating fake news, they continue to remain active on the platform and are posting regularly.

Will the oversight board upholding the Trump ban set a precedent?

Although the oversight board has agreed with Facebook’s decision, it has also said that the punishment meted out to Trump was unfair and that the platform must justify its decision again after reviewing it.

Experts, however, believe that it is unlikely to set a precedent since these platforms do not have uniform policies to deal with this tricky issue. For example, in India, Twitter had come under severe fire from the central government for delayed response on taking down posts that the latter had claimed could lead to violence.

Though the platforms have asked experts for inputs from subject experts on how to better handle this situation, it is likely to take them some time before they finalise a strict policy for dealing with such issues.

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