The decision made on Trump is the most obvious sign that the board doesn’t wish to be Facebook’s fake.
Facebook has asked the Oversight Board to review its decision to permanently ban Donald Trump and guide the company on whether to let the former president post on Facebook again. This could be the ultimate example of buck-passing. For the past three decades, Facebook has established an elaborate structure for an independent entity to oversee its content-related decisions. The 20-member board just began to consider instances; Facebook outsourced it with possibly the most controversial move ever. What if Donald Trump returned to social media, slamming people who disapprove of him as if he had won? Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told his shiny new board to call the shots.
However, the board did not play. In a statement affirming Facebook was in the proper position to remove the Trump account over its riot-coddling posts from January 6, it condemned the company for inventing a penalty that was not in its guidelines–an “indefinite” suspension. The board advised Facebook to wait six months to get its rules right before making a Trump restoration decision.
In a conference call after the publication of the decision, the board’s co-chair and Stanford lawyer Michael McConnell made it clear that the board wasn’t interested in bailing out Facebook. “We are not police,” he said. “Our primary goal is to ensure that we hold Facebook responsible.”
The real-world impact of the ruling means Trump will only be on Facebook for a while. Many countries sigh in relief, but others will be convinced it’s part of a conspiracy by liberals. However, the ruling could be the turning point in the history of the alleged Supreme Court of Facebook.
Facebook set up this board of directors because it would have an outsider’s perspective to look over crucial decisions that the company needed to make regarding content. In 2018, no one believed in Facebook to make those decisions. This was not without reason. Politics and business strongly influenced the most controversial cases that most senior policy executives decided on. The most influential voice regarding these decisions is Facebook’s vice president of global policy Joel Kaplan, a former GOP friend, and operative of Brett Kavanaugh. In the end, decisions are made by Zuckerberg, who, as CEO, is aware of how Facebook’s speech choices influence its brand and its future business prospects.
Zuckerberg even sided with those who said that no one has the authority to make these choices on a platform with three billion people. He established the board and provided the committee with $130 million to ensure that essential content decisions for Facebook and Instagram could be referred to many prominent people in the realms of human rights media, politics, and human rights instead. The board members soon realized that their primary task was to establish that they were independent of the business that was the founding partner of the group. The early decisions of the board provided indications of how the relationship could develop into an adversarial one. In one instance involving content that Facebook removed, Facebook told the board to stop deliberating as the company had reversed its initial removal and the matter was no longer relevant. The board remained on the fence and wanted to discuss the issue.
The Trump decision explicitly affirms that the board will not be Facebook’s flimsy. Perhaps Zuckerberg thought that in deciding whether Trump should be allowed to return, the board would re-roll the plethora of negative Trump postings to support its decision. The board’s decision to affirm Facebook’s decision to remove the posts from January 6 was swift and anodyne. Trump’s representatives had filed an argument in a letter that said it is “inconceivable” that the president’s tweets could be considered incitement to violence which injured and dead persons on Capitol grounds disputed. The board’s criticism focused more on Mar a Lago than Menlo Park. “It’s much more of an action about Facebook and its use instead of Trump,” said board co-chair and former Denmark prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt during the conference call. “Facebook did not take responsibility for its actions. They are required to adhere to the rules of their company.”
“Our job is to examine whether Facebook’s decisions are by its standards as well as to the international standard of human rights that Facebook freely chose to follow,” board co-chair and human rights expert Catalina Botero-Marino spoke to me during an interview. “Not to take on Facebook’s task.” It did provide a set of suggestions Facebook could consider when deciding its future policies, mainly arguing that the prevention of dangerous speech should be a priority over the newsworthiness of a particular public person, whether it’s Trump from the US or another autocratic leader. However, it’s the responsibility of Facebook to come up with a solution.
The decision not only penalized Facebook for inventing the notion that it had the term “indefinite ban,” which was never stated in its policies but also criticized Facebook for refusing to answer specific requests for details. Facebook could not respond to seven of the questions put to it by the board. This included several crucial questions, such as what it was that the News Feed spread Trump’s posts and affected how Facebook handled the protests on January 6. Facebook was also unable to disclose whether it was approached by officials from the political world regarding the suspension or if the rest will impact how Facebook can target ads. This inflexibility contributed to the board’s negative assessment of Facebook’s handling of this Trump ban. Unlike a traditional court, this Oversight Board has no subpoena authority over Facebook. Botero-Marino claims the only recourse is to bring those cases to light in which Facebook cannot answer concerns, as in this instance.
Additionally, the board used the incident as an opportunity to put doubts about Facebook’s handling of false information regarding the 2022 election. The committee requested that Facebook undergo “a thorough review of the potential impact it could have on the story of fraud in the electoral process and the intensified tensions that led to the violence that erupted in the United States on January 6.” The Facebook executive team did not expect that from the board.