There is a possibility – even if it's only a slim one – that Donald Trump will get his Facebook back.
On Thursday, Facebook said it had asked an independent group called the Facebook Oversight Board to review the company's decision earlier this month to suspend the now-former US president indefinitely. The Oversight Board, a group of academics, journalists, and policy experts from around the world, was formed to review Facebook's choices about content moderation. Launched late last year, it has enough power to override even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who controversially opposed calls to moderate Trump's posts for almost his entire presidency.
The board was quick to accept the Trump suspension case and expects to reach a decision within three months. If it decides Facebook was wrong to boot the president, Trump could potentially post again on Facebook (as well as Facebook's own Instagram), platforms where he had tens of millions of followers and often posted political misinformation and branding content.
Facebook suspended Trump's account indefinitely on Jan. 7, the day after a presidential rally, repeatedly encouraged by the president, led to a deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol. Twitter followed suit and permanently suspended Trump from his platform. Finally, YouTube froze Trump's account through the inauguration and extended its ban for another week on January 19th.
Facebook said Thursday that it considers its historic decision to ban the president a necessary move. Some criticized the president's ban in his final days in office, saying it was too late; others argued that the ban was unprecedented censorship from a world leader. When Facebook suspended its account indefinitely, the company cited concerns that the president might use the platform to incite further violence, citing the "exceptional circumstances" a "US president who actively instigates a violent uprising to prevent the peaceful transfer of power".
“It has never happened before – and we hope it will never happen again. It was an unprecedented series of events that required unprecedented action, ”wrote Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications for the company, on a blog post Thursday announcing the decision to refer the issue to the board of directors.
Facebook gave a clear verdict when it banned Trump, even in exceptional circumstances – but the company continues to insist that it is merely a neutral platform and does not want to take responsibility for determining what content should appear on its platform and which ones don't. Forwarding its decision to the supervisory body is a way for Facebook to distance itself from this decision-making role.
Now the board will look into the case for the next 90 days, and Facebook is expected to make any decision it comes to within a week. In the meantime, the feedback is open to the public and even Trump can voice his opinion and make his own case for why he should be reinstated on the platform. A Trump campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This case of whether or not to keep Trump out of Facebook will be the first major test of the Facebook board of directors, which launched shortly before the US presidential election and got off to a sluggish start. Trump's case could set a precedent for how the world's largest social networks will relate to world leaders in the future.
Facebook's call to suspend Trump also leads to the board's restrictions. Facebook initially acted without involvement, likely because the board's review process takes some time. If the US president uses his Facebook to fuel violent insurgents, a swift decision is needed.
At the same time, some say Thursday's announcement is just another way for Facebook to disguise its own role in providing a platform for Trump to promote the insurgency. “We are concerned that Facebook is using its oversight board as a fig leaf to cover the lack of open, transparent and coherent moderation guidelines, the continued failure to crack down on instigators of hatred and violence, and the tsunami of misinformation and disinformation that continues to flood His platform, ”said a group of Facebook critics, made up of journalists, experts and activists who call themselves the Real Facebook Oversight Board. "This case reveals the dangerous inadequacy of Facebook's self-policing ability: it can't. This underscores the urgent need for regulation."
It is currently unclear what decision the board will make in Trump's case. In both cases, it helps Facebook to appear as neutral as possible – even if reality suggests otherwise.
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