Facebook’s Oversight Board has decided that Donald Trump will not be allowed to return to the platform—for now.
In its Wednesday morning announcement, the board upheld Facebook’s decision to ban Trump’s account the day after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, but said it was “not appropriate” to suspend the former president’s account indefinitely. It ordered Facebook to review Trump’s ban within six months of its decision in order to determine “a proportionate response.”
In other words, Trump is not coming back to Facebook any time soon. But it could be a different question by the time of the next election.
Nick Clegg, the vice president of global affairs at Facebook, wrote on Twitter minutes after the ruling was published, “We will now consider the board’s guidance and develop a response that is clear and proportionate. In the meantime, Mr. Trump’s accounts remain suspended.”
The ruling heavily criticized Facebook’s decision-makers, saying they punished Trump with a “vague, standardless penalty,” then went on to say, “It’s not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.”
However, it also said that Trump’s posts on Jan. 6 “severely violated” Facebook rules and that the “clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots” meant that “Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts” a day later.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Trump blasted Facebook, Google, and Twitter, claiming that “Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States” (Trump is no longer president) and demanding that social media companies “pay a political price” for banning him.
Facebook announced Trump’s blocking back on Jan. 7 with a blog post from Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg. “The risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” Zuckerberg wrote at the time, following Trump’s praise of the Capitol rioters as “very special” people and “great patriots.”
While many cheered Twitter, Facebook, and Google’s decisions to remove Trump’s accounts in the wake of his incendiary rhetoric, the united front by social-media companies quickly weakened.
Just days after the ban, Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey defended the company’s decision to remove Trump’s account, but called it “a precedent I feel is dangerous.” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki told Reuters in March that the company would reinstate Trump’s account “when we see the reduced law enforcement in capitals in the U.S.”
It’s not clear how badly Trump even wants to return to Facebook. Before the ban, Trump often treated the site as an afterthought, posting first and most often to his Twitter account while his Facebook account was left to echo and accent content often posted elsewhere first.
Shortly before the board announced its decision, former President Trump’s office announced he had launched a platform of his own—a blog with short, paragraph-length statements from Trump on his personal website.
Facebook’s Oversight Board was first announced in 2018. It is designed to provide independent checks and balances on the company’s ability to regulate speech, according to Facebook. Critics view it as a way for the company to abstract and legitimize the power that Facebook’s scale affords it.
The board is made up of 20 members of various nationalities. Under its charter, it has the final say over whether moderation decisions by Facebook should be upheld or overturned. Zuckerberg or any other Facebook officials, must abide by their decisions.
In its brief history, the board has flexed its authority more often than not to overturn Facebook’s decisions in favor of free speech. Before the Trump decision, the board reviewed nine Facebook moderation decisions and overturned seven decisions by the company to take down or in some way limit content.
In advance of the board’s decision, the NAACP released a statement warning that any retreat from the ban on Trump’s account would represent a threat to public safety.
“Donald Trump is one of the single greatest threats to American democracy in modern history. We have been pushing the Facebook Oversight Board to do what is right to protect the people and the country the former president endangered,” the organization said in a statement.