Facebook Oversight Board Upholds Temporary Suspension of Trump, Exposes Flaws in Platform’s Content Moderation Policies 

Today, the Facebook Oversight Board announced its decision to uphold Facebook’s suspension of former U.S. President Donald TrumpFacebook’s decision to indefinitely suspend Trump’s account followed the former president’s actions, utilizing the platform to incite the violent and deadly January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. 

However, the Facebook Oversight Board found it was inappropriate for Facebook to indefinitely suspend Trump’s account without establishing criteria for when or whether accounts will be restored after an indefinite suspension. Within six months, the Oversight Board directed Facebook to reexamine the indefinite suspension of Trump’s account and decide the appropriate penalty.  

Common Cause members submitted over 23,000 comments to the Oversight Board expressing outrage over Facebook’s failure to consistently enforce its civic integrity policies, which allowed Trump to spread massive amounts of disinformation and use the platform to incite violence. 

Statement of Yosef Getachew, Common Cause Media and Democracy Program Director 

The Facebook Oversight Board’s decision exposes many of the flaws in the platform’s existing content moderation policies and practices. While the ruling upholds the temporary suspension of Trump’s account, it effectively punts the decision back to Facebook to apply one of its existing policies to determine the future of the former president’s account. In the next six months, the platform could decide to permanently ban or restore Trump’s accountWhatever decision Facebook decides is potentially reviewable by the Oversight Board, creating an endless cycle of uncertainty.  

“But we did not have to get to this point had Facebook invested in strong enforcement mechanisms and consistently enforced its civic integrity policiesThe former president is a known perpetrator of disinformation and hate speech, but the platform repeatedly refused to hold him to any standard.  Before, during, and after the 2020 presidential election, Facebook allowed Trump to spread disinformation, amplify hate speech and incite violence with impunity. Former President Trump continues to use other social media platforms to spread the rhetoric and disinformation that led to the violence and tragedy of the January 6 insurrection. The former president’s continued use of social media to spread the rhetoric and disinformation that led to the violence and tragedy of the January 6 insurrection shows he should not be allowed to return to a platform that has previously been unwilling to hold him accountable. 

Moving forward, Facebook must strengthen its civic integrity policies and close loopholes that allow bad actors to spread harmful content. For years, disinformation agents have exploited loopholes in Facebook’s policies that have allowed them to post content that breaks the platform’s rules without any penalties. Facebook must remove exemptions for politicians that allow them to spread disinformation. Instead, Facebook must apply all of its policies globally. 

In addition to closing loopholes, Facebook must consistently enforce new policies along with its existing civic integrity policies.  Despite its existing civic integrity policies, Facebook failed to consistently apply misinformation labels to inaccurate posts or reduce the distribution of misleading content during the election. In fact, a recent report from Avaaz found that Facebook failed to prevent billions of views from misinformation-sharing pages related to the election. Post-election, Facebook failed to prevent the spread of groups that glorified violence and amplified conspiracy theories — many of which are still reportedly active.  

“Facebook’s Oversight Board itself has proven to be a wholly inadequate tool to review the platform’s content moderation decisions. While the Oversight Board solicits public comments prior to making a decision, the process is limited to a short submission window, and comments are not accepted in non-English languages. This undermines the ability for marginalized communities impacted by a particular decision from Facebook to meaningfully participate. The Oversight Board’s decisions are also not binding, meaning Facebook can ignore them if it chooses. Given the lack of transparency around the Oversight Board’s decision-making process and its inability to enforce decisions or implement policy, it serves as nothing more than cover for Facebook’s own inaction. Facebook should not hide behind an Oversight Board to make content moderation decisions. 

“Disinformation on Facebook and other social media platforms has led to voter suppression, real-world violence, and weakened trust in our civic institutions. Social media platforms have yet to show they are up to the task of consistently enforcing their existing policies and appropriately expanding them to limit the spread of harmful content that has already posed significant consequences to our democracy. Lawmakers and regulators must enact policies that hold platforms accountable for perpetuating business models that have led to the proliferation of harmful and false content.