A person scrutinizing a sphere she’s holding in her hand, while shapes and clouds float around her.
A person scrutinizing a sphere she’s holding in her hand, while shapes and clouds float around her.
A person scrutinizing a sphere she’s holding in her hand, while shapes and clouds float around her.

Announcing the Oversight Board’s next cases


January 2021

Following the publication of our first case decisions, the Board is announcing its next cases and opening the public comments process.

Two cases have been selected by the Board, including the case accepted by the Board last week relating to former US President Trump’s indefinite suspension from Facebook and Instagram.

Case selectionCase selection

Since we started accepting cases in October 2020, more than 150,000 cases have been appealed to the Board. As we cannot hear every appeal, we are prioritizing cases that have the potential to affect lots of users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse or raise important questions about Facebook’s policies.

The cases we are announcing are:

2021-001-FB-FBR

Case referred by Facebook

Submit public comment here

On January 6, 2021, Congress was gathered at the US Capitol Building in Washington D.C. to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. Earlier that day, then US President Donald Trump attended a rally near the White House in Washington D.C., where he spoke of the need to “fight like hell” and stated, “we’re going to the Capitol.” Many of those attending the rally then marched on the US Capitol Building. In the ensuing riots, which led to five deaths, two pieces of content were posted on President Trump’s Facebook Page, which has 35 million followers. The first of these was also posted on his Instagram account, which has 24 million followers.

Post 1: As rioters were still present in the Capitol and backup law enforcement personnel were en route, President Trump posted a one-minute video to Facebook and Instagram with the following content: “I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this, where such a thing happened, where they could take it away from all of us – from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can't play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You're very special. You've seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace."

Post 2: As police were securing the Capitol, President Trump posted a written statement on Facebook: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love in peace. Remember this day forever!"

Facebook removed the first post for violating its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations under its policy prohibiting praise, support, and representation of events that Facebook designates as “violating.” Facebook removed the second post under the same Standard, but has not yet clarified the specific aspect of the policy that it applied. Facebook has not indicated whether any of its other Community Standards such as Violence and Incitement or Coordinating Harm were also violated. Additionally, Facebook put in place a 24-hour ban on President Trump's ability to post on Facebook or Instagram when it removed the second post.

On January 7, 2021, after further review of President Trump's posts, his recent communications outside of Facebook, and additional information about the severity of the violence at the Capitol, Facebook “extend[ed] the block” it placed on his accounts “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete,” publicly citing President Trump's “use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government." However, Facebook has not yet clarified the nature of these restrictions. The pages remain publicly accessible on Facebook and Instagram, without indication of the recent enforcement actions that Facebook has taken.

Facebook stated in its referral to the Board that the decision to suspend then-President Trump was taken in extraordinary circumstances. Facebook believes that it made the correct decision in removing President Trump's posts on January 6 and later imposing indefinite restrictions on his access to its platforms. Facebook argues that an indefinite ban does not provide certainty to Mr. Trump or the public as to the future treatment of his speech, but prioritizes safety in a period of civil unrest in the US with no set end date. Facebook believes the decision, when weighted against Facebook’s values that serve as the basis for the Community Standards: “Voice,” “Authenticity,” “Safety,” “Privacy,” and “Dignity,” was “necessary and right.”

Facebook has raised the following issues in relation to this case:

  • Considering Facebook's values, specifically its commitment to “Voice” and “Safety,” did it correctly decide on January 7, 2021, to prohibit Donald J. Trump's access to posting content on Facebook and Instagram for an indefinite amount of time?
  • Facebook also requested the Board’s observations or recommendations on suspensions when the user is a political leader.

2021-002-FB-UA

Case referred by user

Submit public comment here

A Facebook user in the Netherlands posted a 17-second long video with accompanying text in Dutch. The video shows a young child meeting three adults, one dressed to portray ‘Sinterklaas’, also referred to as ‘Saint Nicholas’, and two portraying ‘Zwarte Piet’, also referred to as ‘Black Pete.’ Zwarte Piet is part of a traditional festival in the Netherlands and people playing the character often paint their faces black which has attracted controversy.

In the video, with festive music playing in the background, the child shakes hands with Sinterklaas and with one Zwarte Piet. The other Zwarte Piet places a hat on the top of the child’s head. The accompanying text in the post, also in Dutch, states ‘happy child!’ and thanks Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Piets.

Facebook removed this content under its Hate Speech policy after receiving one report from another Facebook user. Under its Hate Speech Community Standard, Facebook takes down content targeting a person or group of people on the basis of their race and/or ethnicity with “designated dehumanizing comparisons, generalizations, or behavioral statements (in written or visual form),” including “caricatures of Black people in the form of blackface.”

The user submitted their appeal against Facebook’s decision to remove the content in December, 2020. The user stated that the post was meant for their child, who was happy with it, and they want the content back up on Facebook. The user also stated that “the color does not matter” in this case seemingly because, in their view, Zwarte Piet is important to children.

When required, the case descriptions presented here have been designed to protect the anonymity of those involved, including by removing any personally identifiable information.

Each of the cases announced today has been assigned to a five-Member panel, including at least one Member from the region implicated in the content. The Board expects to decide on each case, and for Facebook to have acted on their decision, within 90 days. This timeline includes time for translations and case preparation by Facebook, the user and the Oversight Board to ensure that the case is represented properly.

Once the Board has reached a decision on these cases, Facebook will be required to implement our decisions, as well as publicly respond to any additional policy recommendations that the Board makes.

You can learn more about the process for selecting, deliberating and deciding cases here.

Public commentsPublic comments

The Board is committed to bringing diverse perspectives from third parties into the case review process. Through our public comment process, we invite subject matter experts and other interested groups to share relevant information that may help the Oversight Board deliberate specific cases.

As the Board’s work progresses, we will iterate and improve the public comments process by listening to participant feedback. For our first round of cases, we heard that participants wanted more time to comment. As such, we are extending the public comment period to 10 days. In addition, alongside the case descriptions published today, we are providing a small number of questions to help guide public comments in areas where the Board is looking for particular input.

If you or your organization feel that you can contribute valuable perspectives that can help with reaching decisions on the cases listed above, you can submit your contributions using the links above. You can also sign up here to receive email updates on future cases and the opening of the public comment process for these.

The public comment window for the cases announced today is open for 10 days, closing at 3pm UTC on Monday 8th February.

[Update 16:30 UTC, 05.02.21 - Given the high level of interest from people and organizations wanting to participate in the Board’s work on these cases, we are extending the deadline for submitting public comments until 15:00 UTC on Friday, 12 February.]

Please note that the case descriptions presented today are based on the information provided to the Board by users and Facebook to date and they are being posted before panels begin deliberation to provide time for public comment. As such, they reflect neither the Board's assessment of the case nor the full array of policy issues that a panel might consider to be implicated by the case. A panel may decide to post additional information relating to the case, with an updated deadline for submission of comments.

What’s nextWhat’s next

In the coming weeks, Board Members will be deliberating these cases. Once they have reached their final decisions, we will post them on the Oversight Board website.

Back to News & Articles