AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Former President Donald Trump will remain off of the world's largest social network, at least for now. Facebook's oversight board has upheld the ban that the company put in place after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. At the time, Facebook had said that Trump was using its platform to, quote, "incite violent insurrection." But even as the oversight board agreed with that, it said Facebook was wrong to impose an indefinite suspension and must either reinstate Trump or ban him permanently.
All right, so joining us now is NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. And before we begin, we should note that Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.
Hey to both of you.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.
CHANG: So, Shannon, let's start with you. Before we even get into this decision, can you just talk about what is Facebook's oversight board? Like, who's on it? What are they meant to do?
BOND: Right. So it's currently 20 people on this panel. This is an advisory board. It was created and funded by Facebook. And it's made up of human rights experts, lawyers, journalists. There's even an ex-prime minister. And the idea is that they give advice, and they review the toughest decisions that Facebook makes about what people can and can't post, such as this decision about banning Donald Trump.
CHANG: OK. So tell us about this decision that they reached today about Trump.
BOND: Right. So the board said that when Facebook made this very controversial choice to suspend Trump indefinitely from Facebook and Instagram after January 6, the suspension was justified. It said, you know, Trump indeed broke Facebook's rules. He praised the rioters at the Capitol. and that just goes against Facebook's rules about potentially inciting violence.
But the board took issue with the penalty that Facebook gave Trump - this indefinite suspension, which, you know, Facebook asked the board to sort of weigh in. You know, should we keep it going or should we let him back on? And the board said, no, no, no. Facebook, that is your job. So here's what Michael McConnell, a law professor at Stanford, who is a co-chair of the board, here's what he told me today.
MICHAEL MCCONNELL: You know, we are not here for Facebook just to, you know, lob, you know, politically controversial hot potatoes to us for us to decide. We are an oversight board.
BOND: So the board is saying, you know, Facebook, you can't punt this decision to us. It's punted it back to Facebook.
BOND: It's given the company six months to decide will it allow Trump back or will it ban him permanently?
CHANG: OK. And how has Facebook, the company, responded to this decision?
BOND: Well, just to be clear, this board doesn't have any legal or enforcement authority, but Facebook has agreed to be bound by its rulings on these decisions. So it says it's going to review what it did in this case with Trump and come back with a, quote, "clear and proportionate" action on his account.
CHANG: OK. Well Domenico, has there been any response yet from former President Trump?
MONTANARO: There has. And he hasn't responded to the specifics of what the oversight board did or said or what Facebook said in response. But, you know, Trump remains banned on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and he called the stances of those companies a, quote, "total disgrace and an embarrassment to the (ph) country." He also promised a degree of retribution. He threatened that they must pay a political price. You know, and the fact is, you know, he said social media companies, not just Facebook, are corrupt and disgraceful. And there's certainly not an effort on his part to tone down any of the rhetoric that got him suspended from Facebook in the first place.
CHANG: Yeah. Well, how big of a deal is this for Trump, politically speaking - I mean, at least for now - to be off of Facebook and to be off of Instagram?
MONTANARO: It's a big deal. You know, some people look at Twitter and they think that because Trump has been off of Twitter, that that's even bigger. And that's a big piece of it because, you know, he's permanently banned from Twitter. And he - that was a key way for him to get his message out and to control the news narrative. But Facebook was much more important for campaigning, for the campaign infrastructure, for fundraising, for targeting voters.
You know, one strategist I talked to this week said that he viewed this upcoming Facebook decision as make or break for Trump's political future. You know, he has the strongest fundraising list of any of the potential Republican candidates. So much of how Trump was able to raise small-dollar donations was through Facebook. His campaign was always able to use Facebook to microtarget swing voters and did it in unprecedented ways. That's why, you know, Brad Parscale, who was his former campaign manager and digital director in 2016, said Facebook was, quote, "the highway" that Trump drove his car on to win in 2016. And operatives say that without Facebook, it's going to be tough for his campaign to do that if he wants to run in 2024 again.
CHANG: So interesting. Well Shannon, I mean, beyond this situation with the former president, what are the implications of this decision for Facebook in the larger sense?
BOND: Yeah. Well, the board came down pretty hard on Facebook and particularly what CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said about, you know, taking a very hands-off approach to political speech. You know, he says it's already highly scrutinized. Facebook, you know, in some cases doesn't necessarily penalize high-profile users, politicians because if what they say is considered newsworthy. And the board said Facebook should not be treating politicians differently than other users.
And here, it really has zeroed in on something that many critics say about Facebook. Too often, it feels like this company is making up the rules as it goes along. And that makes it hard for users to understand what's happening. It's also fueled accusations that the company is politically biased. That's something we've heard from Republicans, and I imagine we're going to keep hearing.
CHANG: Domenico, back to you. I mean, Trump's team has said that they are aiming to create their own social media platform. What would that even be? And, like, where does that effort stand right now?
MONTANARO: Well, it hasn't happened yet. You know, yesterday they launched kind of a blog-like feature on their site where you can't even comment and - you know, as a place for him to kind of get out some of his message. But that is nothing compared to what he was able to do with something like Facebook. His team is promising that they're going to, you know, still launch this social media platform. But how much of an impact that could actually have when you've got a kind of giant like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube keeping him off? We're going to have to wait and see.
CHANG: That is NPR's Domenico Montanaro and Shannon Bond.
Thanks to both of you.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
BOND: Thank you.
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