Facebook, ban Trump permanently

Facebook’s Oversight Board has reached its decision on whether to permanently ban Donald Trump from the platform. They punted. Here's why Mark Zuckerberg needs to make the ban permanent.

UPDATE: AMERICAblog and MeidasTouch are calling for Facebook to make Trump’s ban permanent. Sign the petition and urge Facebook to follow its own rules, do the right thing, and ban Donald Trump for life.

Facebook’s Oversight Board has reached its decision on whether to permanently ban Donald Trump from the platform. They punted. Having said that, I don’t think their decision is as bad as some say. Here’s why.

On January 7, 2021, Facebook banned Trump “indefinitely” after he used the social media platform to cheer on the deadly Insurrection against the US Capitol building the day before. Facebook has an Oversight Board that can review such decisions, and later in January, Facebook asked the board to review Trump’s indefinite suspension.

The Oversight Board issued its ruling this morning, and it’s complicated, but also justly nuanced. Overall, the Board says that action against Trump was merited, but that the specific action Facebook took, to suspend Trump “indefinitely” — meaning, maybe for a short while, maybe forever — is too vague. Facebook either needs to ban Trump permanently, or suspend his account for a set and publicly-declared period of time (and then, renew the suspension if they believe he will continue the offending behavior that got him suspended in the first place).

Facebook was likely hoping the Board would make a final decision for them, so that Mark Zuckerberg et. al., could deflect any blame, from left or right, back to the Board members. Alas, that didn’t happen.

The Board ruled that the ban — suspension, really — stays in place for now, and Facebook has six months to review its decision, and either make it a temporary suspension that lifts or is renewed after a time certain, or a permanent ban. The Board also said that if Facebook does not reach a decision within six months, the ban will become permanent on its own (kind of like a pocket veto in reverse).

In addition to its decision, Facebook’s Oversight Board posted a history of what happened on January 6th, and it’s clear the Board is none-too-thrilled with what Trump did. This language should make it harder for Facebook to simply let Trump back on.

Elections are a crucial part of democracy. On January 6, 2021, during the counting of the 2020 electoral votes, a mob forcibly entered the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. This violence threatened the constitutional process. Five people died and many more were injured during the violence. During these events, then-President Donald Trump posted two pieces of content.

At 4:21 pm Eastern Standard Time, as the riot continued, Mr. Trump posted a video on Facebook and Instagram:

I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side, but you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us, from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can't play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You're very special. You've seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.

At 5:41 pm Eastern Standard Time, Facebook removed this post for violating its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations.

At 6:07 pm Eastern Standard Time, as police were securing the Capitol, Mr. Trump posted a written statement on Facebook:

These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love in peace. Remember this day forever!

At 6:15 pm Eastern Standard Time, Facebook removed this post for violating its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations. It also blocked Mr. Trump from posting on Facebook or Instagram for 24 hours.

On January 7, after further reviewing Mr. Trump’s posts, his recent communications off Facebook, and additional information about the severity of the violence at the Capitol, Facebook extended the block “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”

On January 7, after further reviewing Mr. Trump’s posts, his recent communications off Facebook, and additional information about the severity of the violence at the Capitol, Facebook extended the block “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”

The timeline reminds us that Trump posted his comments, egging the violent insurrectionists on, late in the day, after everyone was aware of how violent the day had become. From 4pm to 6pm ET, the Insurrection had already been going on for three to five hours. Here are some additional time markers, courtesy of Bill Moyers, so that you can fully appreciate just how bad Trump’s Facebook posts were in the context of the day’s events. These were not comments Trump made during the fog of war, when no one even realized how bad the assault on the Capitol really was. They’re things he said after everyone knew lives were at risk.

12:30 pm: Josh Hawley gives soon-to-be rioters the thumbs up.

1 pm: Trump supporters begin to storm the police barricades outside the US Capitol building.

1:11 pm: Trump urges his supporters to march to the Capitol.

1:26 pm: The US Capitol Police order the evacuation of the Capitol.

1:30 pm: Insurrectionists overrun the police barricades and make their way up the Capitol steps.

1:49 pm: The Capitol Police Chief asks the National Guard for help.

At this point, not only is the Insurrection all over television, but the fact that the National Guard has been asked to intervene means surely someone thought to notify the President of this fact — after all, his own Vice President was there! Trump knew exactly how dire the situation was over two hours before his first Facebook post egging the rioters on.

1:59 pm: Rioters have reached the Capitol doors, and are breaking windows in an attempt to enter.

2:11 pm: Still more than two hours BEFORE Trump’s Facebook posts, the US Capitol building is breached by rioters.

2:13 pm: VP Pence is rushed off the US Senate floor. Trump was absolutely informed of this fact.

2:20pm: Members of Congress are trapped, pleading for help by phone to anyone in Washington who will listen. We are still two hours away from Trump publicly urging the rioters on.

2:24pm: Knowing his Vice President is under siege from a violent mob threatening to lynch him, Trump publicly criticizes Pence on Twitter:

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

2:28pm: Rioters storm Pelosi’s office.

2:52pm: SWAT teams enter the Capitol building.

4:17pm: An hour and 25 minutes later, Trump posts his Facebook video lauding and defending the rioters.

It’s bad enough what Trump did to aid and abet the violent insurrection on Facebook, but when you look at the timeline of events that day, Trump’s actions are far worse in context. After the entire country had already spent three hours in shock at the unfolding violence, Trump weighed in, using Facebook to support the terrorist attack on our government.

It doesn’t get any worse than that.

Facebook’s Oversight Board included additional language that makes it even more difficult for Zuckberger to ultimately let Trump back on:

The Board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible. At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions. As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence. The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram.

Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7.

But, that language also hands Zuckerberg an out, if he chooses to take it. The Board notes that Trump created an environment in which violence was possible because he was President, and thus had a “high level of influence.” This turns Facebook’s (and Twitter’s) usual reticence to ban or censor worlds leaders on its head. Normally, social media companies cut heads of state some slack when enforcing their terms of service. In this case, Facebook’s Oversight Board is saying that Trump’s status as an influential world leader is part of the reason he had to be suspended — because his influence made his words a greater risk of violence.

But that means that Trump as private citizen is at lesser risk of provoking future harm, using the Board’s logic. Zuckerberg could use that rationale to let Trump back on, since Trump is no longer a powerful world leader. Note this additional language from the Board:

This penalty must be based on the gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm. (emphasis added)

A less powerful private-citizen Trump offers less of a prospect of future harm, right?

Though, I’d argue that Trump’s influence is still disproportionally large, even while out of office, in large part because of the Big Lie. Trump claims he’s still president, as do 70% of Republicans. That means the Board’s rationale for upholding the suspension still stands — Trump is seen as an ongoing world leader by the very people inspired to violence by his rhetoric and overall election message. So, per se, the risk of future violence from his words remains great and grave because Trump’s own supporters, those who committed the violence in the first place, still think he’s president.

On the other hand, to the degree that one were to argue that Trump as private citizen is not as powerful as he was while president, and thus the ban is no longer merited, Trump’s diminished power is in large part because he is no longer on social media, as Facebook suspended him and Twitter banned him. By lifting Trump’s ban, Mark Zuckerberg would be handing Trump back his most lethal weapon, re-empowering Trump to such a degree that a ban would then be justified anyway, based on Trump’s renewed “high level of influence.” Either way, Trump’s ban should be made permanent.

No matter the decision Zuckerberg reaches, someone won’t be happy. If he chooses to permanently ban Trump, MAGA supporters will freak out. But if Zuckerberg chooses to let Trump back on Facebook, Democrats, Independent and right-minded Republicans won’t be pleased. The thing is, even if Zuckerberg lets Trump back on, Trumpers will still hate Facebook, and make it their life’s mission to destroy Zuckerberg. Why? Because demonizing “liberal” Silicon Valley — which is kind of a joke, as Silicon Valley is anything but liberal — is great for GOP fundraising and promoting the Republican’s “cancel culture” message that they hope will help win them the election in 2022. It’s difficult to argue that you’ve been canceled when Facebook lets you back on.

So, from a purely political perspective, Facebook can either choose to tick off people who already hate it and who are already hell-bent on destroying it — thus, not really changing the status quo — or they can tick off people whose animus is far less, and thus end up angering everybody.

One hopes Facebook does not make a political decision here, but rather, one based on its own rules, and on common decency. Donald Trump used Facebook in an effort to violently overthrow our government, something that led to the deaths of five people. And, Donald Trump made clear yet again this week that he will continue to peddle the Big Lie, thus risking a renewal of violence in the future.

We are not talking about someone posting an offensive meme. We’re talking about aiding and abetting domestic terrorism. And we are talking about Donald Trump continuing to publish the very message that got him banned from Facebook in the first place.

Liz Cheney warned today in the Washington Post that Trump could easily provoke more violence:

As the Justice Department and multiple federal judges have suggested, there is good reason to believe that Trump’s language can provoke violence again

This is the very standard that the Oversight Board said Facebook should apply when determining whether to ban Trump permanently — “the prospect of future harm.” The prospect is clear. Trump must be banned.

Please join AMERICAblog and MeidasTouch in calling on Facebook to ban Donald Trump permanently. Add your name to our growing petition. Thanks.


Other Interesting Stuff

Republicans are preparing to replace Liz Cheney, as the House GOP’s third-ranked leader, with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who ran as a moderate, and now has become a full-blown Trumper. Here’s a great ad from Project Lincoln about Stefanik’s electoral bait-and-switch:

It’s clear that Trump is the one forcing Cheney out, and Trump is the one who hand-picked Stefanik to replace Cheney. So, it’s interesting that Stefanik has a much worse pro-Trump voting record than Liz Cheney:

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson continues trying to kill Trump’s base in order to own the libs:

A neat photo of Biden from the NYT. Check out Lincoln in the background:

My friend Sachin has started a GoFundMe to help provide oxygen to Covid victims in India. (Specifically for oxygen concentrators that literally take oxygen out of the air, and provide it to those with breathing problems - thus an endless supply). He’s already raised almost $5,000. Please help, and share if you can.

And let’s end with a cute animal video, because I love animals.

Talk to you folks later this week, JOHN