Facebook’s oversight board will issue a ruling Wednesday morning on the social media network’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump from Facebook and Instagram and following the riotous invasion of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The decision will be the most high-profile 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 on whether to remove content from the website, based on its community standards, which prohibit users from inciting violence, among other restrictions.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s decision to “indefinitely” ban the former president 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, VP of Global Affairs at Facebook, yes. “The board was established last year to make the final call on some of the most difficult content decisions Facebook makes,” he 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 both the CEO and the majority stockholder, so the buck still stops there.
What’s the structure of the oversight board and who are its members?
Facebook funded the board with an initial investment of $130 million that it expects will cover 6 years of operations. Last spring, Facebook announced the first 20 members of the board, which comprises law scholars, politicians, free-speech and human rights advocates from around the world.
Just like the U.S. Supreme Court, the board will not review every case appealed to them, but will choose only a small number to review in depth, which it says will include those that are “difficult, significant and globally relevant that 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 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 short history shows that it is willing to overturn Facebook decisions to remove content. It’s first decisions, released Jan. 28, overruled 4 of 5 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.
Will the 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 tomorrow. The company characterized its ban of the former president as “permanent” versus Facebook’s “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,” he said. “We have a global service. We are also not just dependent upon just news and politics being what drives Twitter.”
Meanwhile, a top Trump advisor said in March that Trump is 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.”