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Trump Can’t Return to Facebook, Social Network’s ‘Supreme Court’ Rules

The former president was kicked off Facebook and Instagram following the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot

Facebook’s Oversight Board on Wednesday determined former President Trump will remain off the world’s biggest social media platform, four months after he was “indefinitely” suspended following the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

“The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7 to suspend then-President Trump from Facebook and Instagram. Trump’s posts during the Capitol riot severely violated Facebook’s rules and encouraged and legitimized violence,” the Oversight Board said in a blog post.

“The Board also found Facebook violated its own rules by imposing a suspension that was ‘indefinite.’ This penalty is not described in Facebook’s content policies. It has no clear criteria and gives Facebook total discretion on when to impose or lift it,” a follow-up tweet read.

However, the Board said Facebook must review the decision and either give a timed suspension or delete the account altogether. “Within 6 months of today, Facebook must review this matter and decide a new penalty that reflects its rules, the severity of the violation, and prospect of future harm. Facebook can either impose a time-limited suspension or account deletion.”

The Oversight Board pointed to two posts from Trump on Jan. 6 that violated Facebook’s rules. According to the Board’s explanation, Trump saying “we love you. You’re very special” in one post, and then “remember this day forever” in another message, both “violated Facebook’s rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence.”

Those two posts, the Board said, “justified” Facebook suspending Trump’s account.

“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,” The Board added. “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.”

Trump has been off Facebook since Jan. 7, one day after many of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a deadly riot. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the time said Trump was booted for using the platform “to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.” The risk of leaving him on Facebook, Zuckerberg added, was “simply too great.”

The indefinite ban also applied to Instagram, which Facebook owns. Trump had a combined 56 million followers across the two platforms at the time he was banned. (Trump was also permanently banned by Twitter that same week.)

The Oversight Board has been dubbed “Facebook’s Supreme Court” for its ability to overrule content decisions made by the company. No executives, including Zuckerberg, are allowed to veto the independent board’s decisions. Facebook’s Oversight Board consists of 20 international members who, according to the company, are experts on topics like misinformation, journalism and online extremism. (You can find their bios here.)

Wednesday’s decision marked the first real test for the board since it started reviewing cases last October. Facebook put $130 million into the operation, aiming to establish a more robust way of determining content that is and isn’t kosher for its platform; at the same, the board offers users who have been suspended or banned by Facebook’s moderators a way to appeal the company’s decisions.

Trump’s Facebook fate was initially set to be resolved by April 21, but the Oversight Board postponed its decision to Wednesday, in part because it received more than 9,000 public comments tied to the case.

On Tuesday, Trump launched his own online platform dubbed “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” allowing him to send short messages out to his supporters. Unlike on Twitter and Facebook, though, the site is a one-way street and doesn’t offer his fans or critics a way to respond.

Lawrence Yee contributed to this report.