Facebook’s “Supreme Court” is now accepting comments on one of its earliest and likely most consequential cases. The Facebook Oversight Board announced Friday that it would begin accepting public feedback on Facebook’s suspension of former President Trump.
Mark Zuckerberg announced Trump’s suspension on January 7, after the then-president of the United States incited his followers to riot at the nation’s Capitol, an event that resulted in a number of deaths and imperiled the peaceful transition of power.
In a post calling for feedback, the Oversight Board describes the two posts that led to Trump’s suspension. One is a version of the video the president shared the day of the Capitol riot in which he sympathizes with rioters and validates their claim that the “election was stolen from us.” In the second post, Trump reiterates those views, falsely bemoaning a “sacred landslide election victory” that was “unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.”
The board says the point of the public comment process is to incorporate “diverse perspectives” from third parties who wish to share research that might inform their decisions, though it seems a lot more likely the board will wind up with a tidal wave of subjective and probably not particularly useful political takes. Nonetheless, the comment process will be open for 10 days and comments will be collected in an appendix for each case. The board will issue a decision on Trump’s Facebook fate within 90 days of January 21, though the verdict could come sooner.
The Oversight Board specifically invites public comments that consider:
Whether Facebook’s decision to suspend President Trump’s accounts for an indefinite period complied with the company’s responsibilities to respect freedom of expression and human rights, if alternative measures should have been taken, and what measures should be taken for these accounts going forward.
How Facebook should assess off-Facebook context in enforcing its Community Standards, particularly where Facebook seeks to determine whether content may incite violence.
How Facebook should treat the expression of political candidates, office holders, and former office holders, considering their varying positions of power, the importance of political opposition, and the public’s right to information.
The accessibility of Facebook’s rules for account-level enforcement (e.g. disabling accounts or account functions) and appeals against that enforcement.
Considerations for the consistent global enforcement of Facebook’s content policies against political leaders, whether at the content-level (e.g. content removal) or account-level (e.g. disabling account functions), including the relevance of Facebook’s “newsworthiness” exemption and Facebook’s human rights responsibilities.
The Oversight Board’s post gets very granular on the Trump suspension, critiquing Facebook for lack of specificity when the company didn’t state exactly which part of its community standards were violated. Between this and the five recent cases, the board appears to view its role as a technical one, in which it examines each case against Facebook’s existing ruleset and then makes recommendations for future policy rather than working backward from its own broader recommendations.
The Facebook Oversight Board announced its first cluster of decisions this week, overturning the company’s own choice to remove potentially objectionable content in four of five cases. None of those cases pertained to content relevant to Trump’s account suspension, but they prove that the Oversight Board isn’t afraid to go against the company’s own thinking — at least when it comes to what gets taken down.