Facebook’s Oversight Board could review Donald Trump’s suspension
Mark Zuckerberg has spent several years setting up the Oversight Board
Donald Trump’s suspension from Facebook may be reviewed by the independent board set up by the social network to examine its most controversial decisions.
The Oversight Board, a group of 20 academics and policy experts that has been dubbed a “Supreme Court” for Facebook, said it was prepared to potentially examine the President’s indefinite Facebook ban, which came after last week’s violent riots in Washington DC.
The Oversight Board, whose members includes the former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and Denmark’s former Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, does not have the power to overrule Mr Trump’s suspension. However, it could recommend to Facebook that it reverse the decision, potentially putting pressure on the company to allow Mr Trump back on the social network.
"The Oversight Board is closely following events in the United States and Facebook’s response to them. As with all potential cases that the Board may be asked to make decisions on, we are not commenting further to avoid prejudicing the review process," a spokesperson for the board said.
Last Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had suspended Mr Trump indefinitely, and at least until Joe Biden is inaugurated next week. Mr Zuckerberg said the President’s continued presence on Facebook risked inciting further violence after last Wednesday’s assault on the US Capitol building. Mr Trump’s suspension, along with his permanent removal from Twitter, has sparked a debate over the power exerted by tech companies.
It comes after Facebook’s operation chief Sheryl Sandberg last night said the company had no plans to lift its block on the accounts of Trump, as the company clamped down on a phrase that has become a rallying cry for the president’s supporters.
Sandberg, speaking during the Reuters Next conference, said she was glad that Facebook had frozen Trump’s accounts. Hours later, the company banned the phrase "stop the steal" altogether, citing use of the term to organize events contesting the outcome of the US presidential election that have a propensity for violence.
If Trump wanted to appeal the removal of his content, that could happen through the company’s new Oversight Board, she added. Facebook said Trump could not appeal the actual suspension through the board.
"This shows the president is not above the policies we have," Sandberg said, speaking with Reuters Breakingviews columnist Gina Chon.
While Mr Trump does not have the ability to appeal his suspension directly, the Oversight Board’s rules allow Facebook itself to refer the decision to the board. Such referrals are not made public unless Facebook asks for an “expedited review” of a decision and a Facebook spokesperson did not say if it planned to refer Mr Trump’s suspension to the body. However, the high profile nature of the decision means it may be seen as a clear candidate for review.
Facebook has spent several years setting up the board amid mounting concerns that the company has too much control over what people can post online. The 20-person body is intended to be independent of Facebook, with users able to appeal when a piece of content has been taken down.
While the Oversight Board can overrule Facebook on decisions that come from users, decisions on cases referred to it by Facebook itself, such as those related to account removals, are not binding.
The Oversight Board is expected to open a new set of cases to review later this month. It started receiving appeals from Facebook users last October and is set to decide on its initial set of cases by the end of this month.