Facebook said Thursday it is seeking a second opinion on its decision to indefinitely suspend former President Donald Trump, referring the matter to the oversight board it set up to hear such cases.
“We believe our decision was necessary and right,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, said in a post on the company’s blog. “Given its significance, we think it is important for the board to review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld.”
The oversight board was created last year as a way for Facebook and Instagram users to seek redress when the services take down content or restrict accounts. Facebook appointed the board’s initial members, many of whom are lawyers or human rights experts, and the company refers to the board as independent.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he will abide by the board’s rulings, so it’s possible it could restore Trump’s ability to post. His page on Facebook has 35 million followers.
The Trump case immediately becomes the most high-profile question to come before the Oversight Board in the months since its creation, with the potential to set a major precedent for how free speech is governed on Facebook. It could have lasting ramifications for how the platform is moderated, especially for divisive government officials.
The oversight board said in a statement on its website that it had accepted the Trump case for examination by a five-person panel. A majority of the board is required for any decision to be issued, it said, and that should come “as promptly as possible” but within 90 days.
“The Oversight Board launched in late 2020 to address exactly the sort of highly consequential issues raised by this case,” the board said in its statement, which was unsigned.
It was unclear if Trump had appealed Facebook’s decision to the board or had any communication with it. The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump will be able to submit a “user statement” explaining why he believes the decision to suspend him should be overturned, the board said. All “interested individuals and organizations” will also be able to submit public comments.
Facebook suspended Trump on Jan. 7, a day after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a riot that left five people dead. The suspension is open-ended, and sources said this week that Facebook had no plans to lift it after Trump’s departure from the White House Wednesday.
A number of pro-Trump extremists used Facebook to plan the attack on the Capitol, according to the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit watchdog. Those findings contradict claims by Facebook’s leadership that such planning was largely done on other sites.
Clegg said that while Facebook awaits the oversight board’s decision, “Mr. Trump’s access will remain suspended indefinitely.”
“Every day, Facebook makes decisions about whether content is harmful, and these decisions are made according to Community Standards we have developed over many years,” he said.
Kate Klonick, a law professor at St. John’s University who has studied the Oversight Board, said the Trump case would be an important test for creating a transparent global process “to adjudicate these human rights issues of speech, not just letting those calls rest in the hands of a lucky few in Silicon Valley.”