Facebook’s independent oversight board has reached a decision on Donald Trump’s suspension from the company’s platforms, and will reveal his fate later this week.
In a brief statement this morning, the board said it would announce its decision at about 9am EDT on Wednesday, May 5. That’s 11pm on Wednesday night AEST.
The former US president has been barred from publishing on both Facebook and Instagram since January 7, the day after his supporters attacked the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. in an attempt to stop President Joe Biden’s election win from being certified.
At the time, Facebook concluded Mr Trump had used its platforms to spread misinformation and incite violence against the US government.
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Initially, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the ban would last until the end of Mr Trump’s term on January 20.
“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor,” Mr Zuckerberg said.
“Over the last several years, we have allowed President Trump to use our platform consistent with our own rules, at times removing content or labelling his posts when they violated our policies. We did this because we believe that the public has a right to the broadest possible access to political speech, even controversial speech.
“But the current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”
Later in January the ban became indefinite, pending a ruling from the oversight board, an independent panel of experts tasked with reviewing Facebook’s more contentious content moderation decisions.
The board was established last October, and since then it has overturned Facebook’s decisions half a dozen times.
Its rulings are binding and final. If the board decides Mr Trump’s suspension was unjust, Facebook will have seven days to unlock the former president’s accounts.
If it rules against him, however, Mr Trump will have no way to appeal, and his ban will become permanent.
Facebook asked the board to come up with general recommendations on how to deal with world leaders on its platforms, so expect Wednesday’s announcement to include something on that subject as well.
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Mr Trump has already been permanently banned from Twitter, and is indefinitely barred from posting new videos on his YouTube account.
“Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that people have a right to hold power to account in the open,” Twitter said in January, justifying its decision.
“However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things.”
In the wake of his defeat to Mr Biden in last year’s election, Mr Trump refused to accept the result. He spent the final months of his term spreading false claims that widespread fraud had robbed him of victory.
The then-president and his allies repeatedly challenged the results in court, and got nowhere. Judges at both state and federal level, including conservative judges appointed by Mr Trump himself, berated his legal team for offering no credible evidence to support its claims.
Mr Trump then set his sights on January 6, when a joint session of Congress would meet to formally count the electoral votes – the last step in confirming Mr Biden’s win.
He told his supporters that vice president Mike Pence, who would preside over the joint session, had the power to unilaterally reject the results.
“If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do. He has the absolute right to do it,” Mr Trump said at a rally on the morning of January 6.
This was false. Mr Pence had no such power.
Thousands of Mr Trump’s supporters proceeded to storm the Capitol, clashing violently with law enforcement.
That night, once the building was back under control, members of Congress returned and completed the electoral vote count.
For the record, Mr Biden won the count 306-232, the same margin as Mr Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton four years earlier. He also won the popular vote, by a margin of about seven million.
Mr Trump never conceded to Mr Biden, and broke with tradition by choosing not to attend his successor’s inauguration on January 20. He was the first outgoing president to skip the inauguration since 1869.
Nearly four months later, and six months after the election, he is still spreading the same misinformation about the election.
“The fraudulent presidential election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” Mr Trump said in a statement just this morning, co-opting the term his political opponents and media critics have used to refer to his false fraud claims.
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Since Mr Trump left office, videos have occasionally popped up on social media showing him venting about the election to audiences at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
In late March, for example, the former president gave a speech at a wedding where he alluded to his claims of fraud.
“We did get 75 million votes. Nobody’s ever gotten that,” Mr Trump told the wedding guests, who were there to celebrate the union of John Arrigo and Megan Noderer.
“They said, ‘Get 66 million votes, sir, and the election’s over. Well I got 75 million and they said – well you saw what happened.
“Ten-thirty in the evening, all of a sudden they said, ‘That’s a strange thing. Why are they closing up certain places?’ Right? Yeah, a lot of things happening right now.”
Mr Trump’s tally of 74 million votes was the second-highest in US history behind Mr Biden, who got 81 million.
More recent footage from last week showed Mr Trump telling patrons at Mar-a-Lago to “watch Arizona”, where state Republicans have hired private companies to audit the election results from Maricopa County.
“Some very interesting things are happening in Arizona,” said Mr Trump.
“Let’s see what they find. I wouldn’t be surprised if they found thousands and thousands of votes.
“We’re going to watch that very quickly, and after that, we’ll (watch) Pennsylvania, we’ll watch Georgia, and you’re going to watch Michigan and Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
“They found a lot of votes up in New Hampshire just now.”
New Hampshire was not even among the toss-up states in November, incidentally. Mr Trump lost it by more than 7 per cent.
“This was a rigged election, everybody knows it, and we’re going to be watching it very closely,” he concluded.