A minority of the members on Facebook’s oversight board pushed to take a broader look at whether former President Donald Trump’s posts contributed to racial tension and broke rules on incitement of violence, but couldn’t reach a consensus, a representative for the board told POLITICO on Wednesday.
The split suggests that some board members may have been open to taking even stronger action against Trump’s account than the continued suspension that the panel wound up endorsing. They could also have explored a wider range of arguments for labeling his use of Facebook’s platforms dangerous and harmful — or even insisted on some show of atonement from Trump.
Telling divisions: The internal wranglings provide a rare inside look into the disagreements that took place between board members as they deliberated Trump’s case. And their disputes underscore the thorny decisions Facebook will now have to make as it reconsiders Trump’s case in the next six months. The board announced Wednesday that it would uphold the suspension, for now.
Praise -vs- incitement: A majority of the board ultimately agreed that two of Trump’s posts during the riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6 violated Facebook’s policies against praising individuals committing violence. The panel specifically cited Trump’s comments referring to those who stormed the building as “very special” and “great patriots.”
But a smaller faction within the board had pushed for the posts to be interpreted under the company’s rules against inciting violence, findings that could have bolstered arguments for Facebook to make Trump’s suspension permanent or more long-term.
“A minority of the panel wanted to look at Trump’s posts relating to Facebook’s violence and incitement community standards, which they believed was important because he had violated by advocating for violence,” Dex Hunter-Torricke, the board’s head of communications, said in an interview.
How to weigh racial comments: A smaller subset of the group also argued for taking “a broader look by previous posts by Mr. Trump that had contributed to racial tension and exclusion,” but were unsuccessful, he said.
The ruling also said some members had advocated for requiring that users who are seeking reinstatement, like Trump, have to “recognize their wrongdoing and commit to observing the rules in the future.”
Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups for years have accused Facebook of failing to adequately crack down on posts by Trump they said should have violated the company’s policies against hate speech and incitement of violence, among other rules.
The ruling: The panel announced Wednesday that Trump created “a serious risk of violence” but took issue with Facebook’s “arbitrary” and indefinite suspension of his account. The board ordered the company to revisit its handling of Trump’s account within the next six months and come to a decision on whether to make his suspension permanent or temporary.
How the vote went down: At least two members of the 20-person board sat out the decision. A spokesperson for the board had previously told POLITICO that Suzanne Nossel, who joined the board in late April, would not partake in the deliberations over Trump’s case.
Hunter-Torricke revealed Wednesday that an additional member of the panel recused themselves in the case, though he did not disclose who or the reason why. “Ultimately the decision was signed off by the entire board, so that’s something that reflected a consensus of the majority,” he said.
The board by policy does not disclose how different members vote on cases, only that a majority reach a consensus on the final decision.
Adding more voices: Hunter-Torricke said that while the board was able to take on high-profile cases like Trump’s, it continues to look for ways to expand to meet its mandate. That includes following through on their longstanding plan to expand to 40 members, likely by the end of the year.
Hunter-Torricke said the board also plans to launch a new team to review how fully Facebook has adopted the board’s policy recommendations, a position that could prove key as the platform considers the board’s full ruling on Trump.