WASHINGTON (Feb. 8, 2021)—Yesterday, R Street submitted comments to the Oversight Board that provide an analytical framework for content moderation decisions grounded in international human rights. Our proposal provides more clarity and consistency in Facebook’s moderation and review mechanisms. Applying it to the issue at hand, it supports Facebook’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump.

R Street’s cybersecurity and emerging threats team and technology and innovation team reached the conclusion that Facebook’s actions in banning Trump from the platform were justified. In particular, as former President Trump has expressed no contrition, this action could help to deter other, like-minded actors.

Our experts offer a framework for suggested analysis that identifies neutral principles and factors on which we believe the Oversight Board should rely for its decision making. Specifically:

1) Truth or Falsity

2) Harmfulness

3) Imminence

4) Incitement

5) Appropriateness of Sanctions

Our scholars specified that the decision to ban the former president permanently is justifiable based on predictive judgement. However, they acknowledged that access could be restored at some point in the future based on that same logic. In such a case, our experts encourage strict vigilance of future harm and the use of permanent suspension as a next response if violations continue.

“Facebook’s decision to remove those posts and prohibit former President Trump from future posting was well justified. His posts about the election were demonstrably false and, in the real-world context of heightened political tension, especially inflammatory and harmful. Not only was violence imminent, but it was ongoing at the time the content was posted and, in context, could reasonably be read as an incitement to further violence,” said Chris Riley, R Street Senior fellow of technology and innovation, and Paul Rosenzweig, R Street Senior fellow of cybersecurity and emerging threats, who spearheaded the comments.

“Content moderation is a tricky, tricky thing. No social media platform has it perfectly right, and we hope to help with that thorny issue,” said Tatyana Bolton, R Street Director of Cybersecurity and Emerging Threats. “This is the Oversight Board’s biggest test yet, and we hope to see the Board reach a clear decision and provide Facebook with meaningful policy guidance for future decisions,” said Riley.

“R Street believes that it is reasonable to justify indefinite suspension by determining that Trump has a continuing political and public role and will continue to post content worth removing under these same factors. It seems to us clear that he has expressed no contrition and that the deterrence of other, like-minded actors would be a positive benefit,” added Rosenzweig and Wayne Brough, R Street Director of Technology and Innovation.