Facebook’s oversight board will issue a ruling on Wednesday on the decision to ban then–President Donald Trump from Facebook and Instagram following the deadly riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The decision will be the highest-profile action in the short history of the oversight body, which has been called Facebook’s
“supreme court,” because it has the final say on contentious decisions regarding whether to remove content from the website, based on the social-networking platform’s community standards, which prohibit users from inciting violence, among other restrictions.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s decision to “indefinitely” ban Trump from the platform on Jan. 7, writing that while “we believe that the public has a right to the broadest possible access to political speech, even controversial speech,” the company believed that “the current context is now fundamentally different, involving use of our platform to incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”
In January, Facebook referred its decision to indefinitely suspend the former president to the oversight board, and in April the appellate body extended the public comment deadline for the case after receiving more than 9,000 responses.
Will Facebook have to abide by the oversight board’s decision?
According Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs at Facebook (and previously deputy prime minister of the U.K. under David Cameron), yes. “The board was established last year to make the final call on some of the most difficult content decisions Facebook makes,” Clegg wrote in a blog post in January. “It is an independent body and its decisions are binding — they can’t be overruled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg or anyone else at Facebook.”
Of course, the oversight board was established by Facebook leadership, and Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO and chairman and the company’s controlling shareholder, so the buck still stops with him.
What’s the structure of the oversight board, and who are its members?
Facebook funded the oversight board with an initial investment of $130 million that it expects will cover six years of operations. Last spring, Facebook named the first 20 members of the board, which comprises law scholars, politicians, and free-speech and human-rights advocates from around the world.
Just like the U.S. Supreme Court, the board will not review every case regarding which it’s appealed to, but will choose only a small number to review in depth, which it says will include those that are “difficult, significant and globally relevant [and] can inform future policy.”
Once a case is selected, a smaller panel of board members will be assigned to it, review it and issue a draft decision. Then the entire board will have an opportunity to review the decision before it becomes final, and the decision may come with policy recommendations for Facebook that the company can either accept or reject.
What will the decision be?
We won’t know, according to the company, until Wednesday at 9 a.m. Eastern time, but various Facebook watchers have weighed in with predictions. New York Times columnist Kara Swisher, who has covered the company for years, believes that the oversight board will reinstate the former president’s account.
The oversight board’s brief historical record shows that it is willing to overturn Facebook decisions to remove content. It’s first decisions, released Jan. 28, overruled four of five of the platform’s removal decisions. Nat Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School, said on Twitter that while the board’s rulings relied on “international human-rights standards” that are “not as speech protective as the 1st Amendment,” they did signal the board’s high regard for freedom of expression.
Could the former president be allowed back on other social-media platforms?
It’s no secret that Trump’s favorite social-media platform is Twitter
and there is little indication that he will be allowed back on that network, whatever Facebook decides. Twitter characterized its ban of the former president as “permanent” when Facebook explained only that Trump was being placed on an “indefinite ban.”
In an earnings call in February, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey stressed his company’s ability to thrive despite the absence of its erstwhile most famous user. “We’re a platform that is obviously much larger than any one topic or any one account,” Dorsey said. “We have a global service. We are also not dependent upon just news and politics [as] what drives Twitter.”
A top Trump adviser said in March that Trump was working on his own social-media platform.
“I do think that we’re going to see President Trump returning to social media in probably about two or three months here, with his own platform,” Trump senior adviser Jason Miller told Fox News on Sunday. “And this is something that I think will be the hottest ticket in social media, it’s going to completely redefine the game, and everybody is going to be waiting and watching to see what exactly President Trump does.”
Fox News said late Tuesday that it was exclusively reporting the launch of that communication platform. It appeared to consist of a string of statements like those that had formerly been distributed as static elements under the letterhead of the former president’s office. They now come equipped with “like” buttons and options for sharing the content — on Twitter or Facebook.