The Truth About Facebook’s Oversight Board

It’s been four months since former President Donald Trump has been seen or heard from on social media, but that could change after the Facebook Oversight Board makes a decision on whether the former president should be allowed back on the platform (via Variety).

The Oversight Board is an independent entity which was first proposed in 2018 and formed in October 2020 with the responsibility of adjudicating difficult decisions involving the social media platform. The body is not affiliated with any government, nor it does not have any legal standing, but it is widely seen (and considered to be) “Facebook’s Supreme Court.” While it currently has 20 members, it ultimately hopes to have 40 experts in a range of fields like journalism and freedom of speech. The entity is fully funded by a Facebook company endowment worth $130 million (via The Washington Post).

The Oversight Board works by convening a five-judge panel that decides on whether Facebook did the right thing by taking down or leaving up a piece of content. Once a decision is reached, the full board needs to vote on it — but if a majority were to disagree, the matter would be sent back to another panel, and the process would start all over again (via The Wall Street Journal).

Donald Trump's social media ban was triggered after the January 6 insurrection

Donald Trump’s ban, which extends to both Facebook and Instagram, was imposed days after the January 6 insurrection that engulfed the U.S. Capitol. The Wall Street Journal says the action was tied to two posts: One where Trump repeated claims about election fraud, and another which urged rioters to leave the site peacefully, and which had made them sound like their actions were reasonable. At the time, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the former president had been trying to undermine the orderly transfer of power between his administration and that of his successor, incumbent President Joe Biden.

The Washington Post says Facebook was the first platform that chose to suspend Trump indefinitely because, as Zuckerberg had put it, “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.”

Still, no matter how Facebook executives might feel about the Trump ban, if The Oversight Board chooses to reinstate the former president, the social media platform will have no choice but to comply.

Facebook's decision to ban Trump is controversial

The Washington Post says the relationship between Trump and Facebook was problematic for most of 2020, because the former president was posting misleading statements about the coronavirus pandemic. Even though it had decided to start calling out some of the former President’s more egregious posts, Facebook didn’t see fit to act until the January 6 insurrection, but that action had also subsequently picked up more than 9,000 public responses (via CNN).

In a blog post, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, explained how challenging and controversial the decision to ban the former president actually is. “The reaction to our decision shows the delicate balance private companies are being asked to strike. Some said that Facebook should have banned President Trump long ago, and that the violence on the Capitol was itself a product of social media; others that it was an unacceptable display of unaccountable corporate power over political speech,” he said in a blog post (via The Wall Street Journal).

But, no matter what The Oversight Board says, there will be no change in the Trump policy from Twitter, who said the ban imposed on the former president, which was made after the January 6 insurrection, is permanent.

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