In a move seemingly designed to aggrieve everyone, Donald Trump is neither permanently banned from Facebook nor immediately allowed back, the Facebook Oversight Board announced Wednesday.
In other words, the former president got a deferral on access to his followers on the world’s largest social-media platform. Still, voices on the right decried the independent board’s non-decision as evidence that Facebook had become more powerful than the government or the United Nations.
Facebook suspended Trump on Jan. 7, the day after he appeared to post support for fans who attacked the U.S. Capitol. Trump’s suspension immediately generated uproar on the right, prompting Facebook to seek guidance from its Oversight Board: a panel of approximately 20 people from the politics, human rights, and media fields. On Wednesday the board upheld Facebook’s decision to suspend Trump, but called on Facebook execs to make their own decision within the next six months.
Trump’s own reaction—delivered by way of a written release, given his own lack of Facebook or Twitter access—was predictably unhappy.
“Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States,” Trump, who is not president, wrote in a statement on the ruling, “because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth, but the truth will come out anyway, bigger and stronger than ever before.”
“The People of our Country will not stand for it!” he added. “These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our Electoral Process.”
Trump was far from alone on the right in accusing Facebook of overpowering the government.
“Facebook’s ‘Oversight Board’ should not be more powerful than the US Constitution,” Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert posted on the messaging app Telegram on Wednesday.
In fact, the Oversight Board is subject to bipartisan criticism—much of it more coherent than Boebert’s. Supposedly independent but formed and funded by Facebook, the board acts as pseudo-Supreme Court for the social media giant. But the board’s exact authority is less than it seems; Facebook previously rejected one of the board’s recommendations.
In this case, the board ruled that Facebook was correct to suspend Trump after the Capitol attack, and that the ongoing risk of Trump-inspired violence justifies his continued ban, but that Facebook was wrong to issue him an indefinite suspension. The board passed the buck back to Facebook: the company has six months to decide whether to ban the ex-president or allow him back on the site.
That didn’t stop multiple media outlets—conservative or otherwise—as mischaracterizing the decision as a lifetime ban. “Facebook Oversight Board Bans Trump For Life,” read one Fox News chyron.
But where some on the left saw a wishy-washy process, or worried about the power of a massive corporation, others on the right saw straight-up tyranny.
“The Facebook oversight board has more power than the United Nations,” conservative author and Senate candidate J.D. Vance tweeted. “Conservatives were right to worry about giving our sovereignty away to a multinational institution. We just picked the wrong one.”
Of course, unlike Facebook, the United Nations can call on member states to deploy troops in its name.
Meanwhile, Infowars, a website that used to wring its hands about the prospect of United Nations tyranny, ran a pointed talking point at the top of its site.
“Trump Launches New Site as ADL-Approved Board Targets Him For More Censorship,” the Infowars headline read, in reference to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization.
The reference to the ADL was mystifying except perhaps as an antisemitic wink from a website whose hosts and guests routinely amplify antisemitism. (In reality, the CEO of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt has been openly critical of Facebook’s Oversight Board, even joining a group called the “Real Facebook Oversight Board” to challenge the official board’s decisions.)
Facebook’s final ruling on Trump’s account remains as unknown as it did yesterday. But already, social media-happy politicians are calling for consequences.
“This morning, Facebook banned Trump permanently,” Boebert tweeted. “Facebook will pay the price. Mark my words.”
Later, perhaps in an act of self-censorship, she deleted the tweet.