In the wake of this month violent insurrection at the United States Capitol, Facebook suspended the account of chief instigator Donald Trump. On January 7, citing the danger that the president’s posts would spur further violence, the CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company would keep Trump off the platform “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.” (Twitter has banned Trump permanently.)
Now that this transition is official, Facebook has a decision to make – whether or not to leave the ex-president as his spokesperson. But today, Facebook is announce that he will not make that decision himself. Earlier this morning he asked the Supervisory Board it was created to ask whether or not Trump is welcome on Facebook.
The Oversight Board is an independent entity funded by Facebook. Three years later, it is yet to render its first ruling – but Facebook expects rulings in six cases the council has been considering since it finally began operations this fall. (The Trump decision will be the seventh decision.) Cases will typically be brought to the board through appeals from users against decisions about Facebook content, but the statutes allow Facebook itself to present cases to the. board review.
These cases include the toughest calls Facebook has to make, and none will be more difficult than this. Much depends on the decision. Without Trump on Twitter and Facebook, much of the world enjoys better blood pressure readings. More seriously, there is less chance that Trump could instigate the type of violence that led to the suspension in the first place. Meanwhile, Trump supporters – and others simply concerned about the power of Facebook – are crying censorship.
Facebook had the option of asking the board to make an expedited decision for speedy processing, but given the seriousness of the matter, it chose to allow the board to take its usual 90 days to deal with the matter. . (Of course, he could render his judgment sooner.) One of the four co-chairs of the 20-person council will assign the case to a committee, which usually consists of five people (one of whom must be in North America), and they will consider whether, as a major political actor, Trump will be welcome. The former president will have the opportunity to present his version of the argument to the board. During this time, Trump’s indefinite suspension will hold.
Is Facebook passing responsibility for this most critical decision? Absolutely. In a press release explaining the move, Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg said, “There are decisions we cannot dodge.” Sending them to the board allows Facebook to do just that. But, the company says, that’s why it created the board in the first place – to ensure accountability. Mark Zuckerberg has always said he doesn’t want to be the world arbiter of what people say or not say on Facebook.
But he made make a decision – send this case to the council he created in part to take the strain off Facebook. It is far from certain that this will allow Facebook to not know if Donald Trump can use his platform. For now, the very famous Oversight Board is left with a very hot potato.
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