Explained: When will Donald Trump be able to use Facebook, Instagram again?

Donald Trump was indefinitely banned from the social media sites in January in the wake of the Capitol Hill violence.

This week, Facebook’s Oversight Board delayed its decision on whether former US president Donald Trump can use Facebook and Instagram again. Trump was indefinitely banned from the social media sites in January.

On Friday, the Oversight Board said on its Twitter account, “The Board will announce its decision on the case concerning former US President Trump’s indefinite suspension from Facebook and Instagram in the coming weeks. We extended the public comments deadline for this case, receiving 9,000+ responses”. It added that the decision was delayed because the board wants to carefully consider all the comments and responses.

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Why was Donald Trump’s Facebook account suspended?

A day after a mob of angry and armed Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Facebook blocked Trump from all its platforms until at least the end of his term, which concluded on January 20. Twitter had followed suit but lifted the suspension a couple of days after the siege.

In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg, the tech giant’s CEO, said on January 7 that “we believe the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely…”.

A few days after January 6, Apple, Amazon and Google suspended Parler from its platforms, saying it did not take enough measures to make sure that content inciting violence remained in check. The social network was popular among conservative users in the US.

Blocking Trump’s access to social media reignited the debate on the power that tech companies have in censoring content. A report in The Financial Times said that while Trump’s critics have applauded his “deplatforming” as it was long overdue, “others worry that the moves demonstrate how much political power has been built up by a handful of private companies.”

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What is Facebook’s Oversight Board?

The Oversight Board was proposed in 2018 primarily to decide “what to take down, what to leave up – and why”. A separate entity from Facebook, its first members were announced in May 2020, and includes academicians and experts from different fields such as law, digital rights and technology. The purpose of the body is to “promote free expression by making principled, independent decisions regarding content on Facebook and Instagram”.

Essentially, the board makes decisions on the kind of content that should be allowed or removed from Facebook and Instagram “based on respect for freedom of expression & human rights.”

How does it work?

The board was established last year and gives users the ability to appeal to the board, giving them a chance to challenge content decisions on Facebook and Instagram. For instance, if a user has requested a review of any content decision, and is unhappy with either Facebook or Instagram’s final stance, he or she can write an appeal to the board.

However, this does not mean that the board will oversee all appeals, and will select cases based on how significant and difficult they are, and if they are globally relevant and have the potential to inform future policy.

In December, the board announced the first cases it would deliberate on. Of 20,000 cases that were referred to the board, it selected only six because of their potential to affect users around the world, and as they raised questions about Facebook’s policies.

One of the cases pertains to a user in the US who reshared a memory post that mentioned an alleged quote from Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, on the need to appeal to emotions and instincts, instead of intellect, and on the unimportance of truth. Facebook removed this post since it violated its policy on “dangerous individuals and organisations”. In an appeal to the board, the user said the quote was important since the user considered Trump’s presidency to be following a fascist model.

The New York Times has referred to the board as “a corporate superboard”, which is expected to decide over the course of the next 87 days if Trump should be given back his access to his Facebook account.

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