SAN FRANCISCO — A Facebook-appointed panel of journalists, activists and lawyers ruled on Wednesday to uphold the social network’s ban of former President Donald J. Trump, ending any immediate return by Mr. Trump to mainstream social media and renewing a debate about tech power over online speech.
Facebook’s Oversight Board, which acts as a quasi-court to deliberate the company’s content decisions, said the social network was right to bar Mr. Trump after he used the site to foment an insurrection in Washington in January. The panel said the ongoing risk of violence “justified” the suspension.
But the board also said that Facebook’s penalty of an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate,” and that the company should apply a “defined penalty.” The board gave Facebook six months to make its final decision on Mr. Trump’s account status.
“The Board insists that Facebook review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform,” it said in a statement.
The decision adds difficulties to Mr. Trump rejoining mainstream social media, which he had used during his White House years to cajole, set policy, criticize opponents and rile up his tens of millions of followers. Twitter and YouTube had also cut off Mr. Trump in January after the insurrection at the Capitol building, saying the risk of harm and the potential for violence that he created was too great.
But it does not mean that Mr. Trump will not be able to return to Facebook at all once the company reviews its action. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump had unveiled a new site, “From the desk of Donald Trump,” to communicate with his supporters. It looked much like a Twitter feed, complete with posts written by Mr. Trump that could be shared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The decision also underlined the power of tech companies in determining who gets to say what online. While Mr. Zuckerberg has said that he does not wish his company to be “the arbiter of truth” in social discourse, Facebook has become increasingly active about the kinds of content it allows. To prevent the spread of misinformation, the company has cracked down on QAnon conspiracy theory groups, election falsehoods and anti-vaccination content in recent months, before culminating with the blocking of Mr. Trump in January.
“This case has dramatic implications for the future of speech online because the public and other platforms are looking at how the oversight board will handle what is a difficult controversy that will arise again around the world,” said Nate Persily, a professor at Stanford University’s law school.
He added, “President Trump has pushed the envelope about what is permissible speech on these platforms and he has set the outer limits such that if you are unwilling to go after him, you are allowing a large amount of incitement and hate speech and disinformation online that others are going to propagate.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Cecilia Kang contributed reporting from Washington.