Facebook’s independent oversight board on Wednesday upheld the company’s decision to suspend former President Donald Trump. But one of the most important aspects of the decision wasn’t really about the former President’s social media accounts at all; instead it was a recommendation for a deeper review of the role the platform played in the spread of election conspiracy theories that, in the board’s words, “exacerbated tensions that culminated in the violence in the United States on January 6.”
The board said the review should “be an open reflection on the design and policy choices that Facebook has made that may allow its platform to be abused.”
The company has attempted to distance itself from the idea that its platform played a role in the insurrection, so the recommendation that it reckon with its culpability in election misinformation and violence may not be one it welcomes.
Speaking soon after the insurrection in January, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg sought to downplay her company’s role in fueling it — and suggested that other technology platforms were largely to blame.
While Facebook does have more rules and more content moderators than other platforms, election conspiracy theories still flourished on its platforms.
Facebook only began to ban content from or related to “Stop the Steal,” a movement that sought to undermine the results of the election, after the insurrection. The week of the election a Facebook group dedicated to “Stop the Steal” gathered hundreds of thousands of members before it was shut down.
An internal Facebook report obtained by BuzzFeed News described Facebook’s tackling of Stop the Steal content as “piecemeal.”
The board’s recommendation that the company’s role in the insurrection be investigated is not binding and Facebook can choose to ignore it.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told CNN Business Thursday that the company was considering all recommendations made by the board. He did not comment specifically on this recommendation.
Previously, when Facebook sought to examine the potentially harmful role it plays on civil rights around the world, it appointed an outside attorney to conduct an audit.
That audit, the results of which were published last summer, concluded Facebook had glaring blind spots for hateful content and misinformation and found the company had made decisions that “represent significant setbacks for civil rights.”
The audit prompted Facebook to hire experts in civil rights.
The recommendation was made by Facebook’s oversight board, which was set up to independently examine contested moderation decisions, that also instructed the company Wednesday that it must decide within six months whether Trump should be allowed to return to the platform. The board took issue with the indefinite suspension of Trump’s accounts and said the company must instead impose a penalty consistent with its own policies, such as a permanent ban or “time-bound period of suspension.”
Beyond its ruling on Trump’s account, the board offered multiple recommendations to the company, including more transparency around content moderation decisions, the development of protocols to quickly escalate political content for moderation, and the review.