Facebook’s Oversight Board will be reviewing, at Facebook’s referral, the decision to indefinitely suspend former US President Donald Trump’s from Facebook and Instagram. Trump’s accounts were suspended on January 7 after he incited his supporters to attack the US Capitol while lawmakers were officiating the transfer of power to Joe Biden.
The company is publicly standing by its decision, explaining that Trump was suspended amid “extraordinary circumstances” and an “unprecedented set of events which called for unprecedented action”.
“The reaction to our decision shows the delicate balance private companies are being asked to strike,” the company said. While people in “open democracies” have a right to hear what their politicians are saying, but they are still subject to the company’s policies, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg said.
Whether you believe the decision was justified or not, many people are understandably uncomfortable with the idea that tech companies have the power to ban elected leaders. Many argue private companies like Facebook shouldn’t be making these big decisions on their own. We agree. — Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs
Facebook has requested policy recommendations from the Board on suspensions when the user is a political leader, the Board said. The company will have to consider any policy recommendation the board makes, and publicly respond to them. Meanwhile, Facebook “has committed” not to restoring Trump’s access until the board arrives at a decision.
Trump will be able to make his own statement to the board explaining why his access should be restored. Facebook itself will share “contextual information” and a detailed explanation of their existing content decisions in this case.
How will it work? The case will be assigned to a five-member panel for review to determine whether Trump’s indefinite suspension from Facebook and Instagram should be overturned. The panel will examine whether the content violated Facebook’s community standards “and values”, and whether the company’s actions “respected” international human rights standards, including on free speech.
- The board will make a decision, which will be binding on Facebook, within 90 days. At least three of the members will have to sign off for a case decision to be issued and shared with the entire board. Further, the board will be open for public comments to share any insights that they believe will help arrive at a decision.
- Following publication, Facebook will have up to seven days to implement the case decision. Facebook must also respond publicly to any policy recommendations the Board has made within its decision within 30 days.
Oversight Board to announce first decisions next week
The Oversight Board is currently considering a case, among other cases, from India for review. The post in question is a picture of a man in a leather armour holding a sheathed sword in his hand. The photo had Hindi text that “discusses” unsheathing the sword in response to “infidels” criticising Prophet Mohammad. It was removed for alleged violation of the company’s “violence and incitement” policy, the user has appealed this removal.
Decisions in the first cases taken up in December are expected next week, and the next batch of cases will also be announced soon. The OSB was first proposed in November 2018, in response to several years of criticism faced by Facebook over its unsatisfactory content moderation activity. It is meant to be an independent body that can review moderation decisions taken by Facebook. The first 20 members of the board were announced in May this year.
Interestingly, the OSB has chosen to ignore the accusations of political bias against Facebook India executives. The OSB had earlier told MediaNama that cases such as these were what it expected to consider as it begins operating.