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David Zurawik is The Baltimore Sun’s media critic.
A quasi-independent oversight board for Facebook extended a ban on former President Donald Trump for six months on Wednesday. It appears the decision on whether to allow him back on the social media platform then will ultimately be made by founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Trump was removed from Facebook and Instagram following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. A Facebook statement at the time said the action was taken in “extraordinary circumstances,” including “a US president actively fomenting a violent insurrection designed to thwart the peaceful transition of power; five people killed; legislators fleeing the seat of democracy.”
On Wednesday, Facebook characterized the board’s ruling as an affirmation of the correctness of its initial decision to remove Trump.
“As we stated in January, we believe our decision was necessary and right, and we’re pleased the board has recognized that the unprecedented circumstances justified the exceptional measure we took,” Nick Clegg, vice president of Global Affairs and Communications, said in the statement.
“However, while the board has not required Facebook to immediately restore Mr. Trump’s accounts, it has not specified the appropriate duration of the penalty,” Clegg’s statement continued. “Instead, the board criticized the open-ended nature of the suspension, calling it an ‘indeterminate and standardless penalty,’ and insisted we review our response. We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate.”
The highly anticipated ruling offers little clarity on a situation that has major implications for the extent to which giant social media corporations have an editorial responsibility to control the content of their platforms. It goes to the heart of free speech rights and responsibilities.
As our information ecosystem becomes increasingly polluted with disinformation, propaganda and lies, the need for rules and regulation in social media only grows. In that sense, the ruling is a disappointment and has the distinct feel of a can being kicked down the road by a social media company that is very good at public relations.
Trump, meanwhile, launched his own site Tuesday: “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.” After much hype from Trump, the site so far consists of releases of statements, images and videos from Trump.