Facebook passes the buck on decision to ban Trump to its new Oversight Board
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Facebook is struggling to decide whether to continue suspending the account of former President Donald Trump. So it’s turning to its recently formed Oversight Board, an entity that’s supposed to serve as an independent appeals court that reviews Facebook’s moderating decisions.
Facebook indefinitely banned Trump from both Facebook and Instagram on Jan. 7 following the riots at the U.S. Capitol. The company said that the risk of further incitement was “simply too great” to allow Trump to continue posting and that the suspension would last at least until Jan. 21, after he left office.
But on Thursday, instead of deciding whether to continue the ban, Facebook offloaded the matter to its Oversight Board, which quickly agreed to accept the case.
The company told Fortune that deciding which cases should go to the board is done at its own discretion. But generally speaking, Facebook selects the cases it considers to be “significant and difficult,” meaning that they have impact at a large scale and that they raise questions about a current policy or enforcement of that policy.
“We believe our decision was necessary and right,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s chief spokesman and public policy officer, said about Trump’s suspension on Thursday. “Given its significance, we think it is important for the board to review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld.”
The board has 90 days to make its ruling, which Facebook claims will be “binding.” During that time, Trump’s suspension will remain in place.
Trump’s case will be assigned to a five-member panel, a majority of whom must sign off on any final decision. As part of the review, Trump will have the chance to submit a statement to the board about why the ban should be revoked, though there’s no indication whether he plans to do that. The board also will accept public comments from “interested individuals and organizations” to help it make its decision.
And once the board signs off and publishes its decision, Facebook has seven days to implement any changes. The social network is also supposed to publicly respond to any policy recommendations included with the decision within 30 days.
But it’s unclear whether the board, which is funded by Facebook, has any enforcement tools for the decisions it makes. And since the board last month accepted its first cases, which it has yet to rule on, there is no precedent for how Trump’s case may be decided.
Whatever happens, the review is unlikely to be fast. The board has been mulling over its initial cases for nearly 45 days, and there’s no indication of whether it’s close to a decision. But Facebook has been receiving backlash from both sides of the political aisle, the left claiming the company did too little, too late in banning Trump, and the right claiming that this is another assault on free speech.
If anything, passing the buck to the board takes the heat off Facebook, at least for the time being.