Oversight Board Agrees To Review Facebook's Trump Suspension

from the shit-just-got-real dept

On Thursday morning, the Oversight Board (you’re apparently not supposed to call it the “Facebook Oversight Board” since it’s — theoretically — independent) announced that it had agreed to review Facebook’s decision to indefinitely suspend former President Donald Trump.

Today the Oversight Board accepted a case referral from Facebook to examine their decision to indefinitely suspend former US President Donald Trump?s access to post content on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook has also requested policy recommendations from the Board on suspensions when the user is a political leader.

Facebook?s decision to suspend Mr. Trump?s access to post on Facebook and Instagram on January 7, 2021, has driven intense global interest. The Oversight Board has been closely following events in the United States and Facebook?s response to them, and the Board is ready to provide a thorough and independent assessment of the company?s decision.

I’ll note that this actually surprises me. When the Oversight Board was first announced, it was said that, at least initially, the Board would focus on individual content decisions, rather than on full account bans. But… apparently that changed. It’s also interesting that Facebook has asked the Board for policy recommendations. If I remember correctly, Facebook can request such input, but that input is not binding on the company, which has made many skeptical of its value.

Still, this strikes me as an important moment for the Oversight Board. This will obviously be followed very closely. While I share the skepticism of many that the Oversight Board will be that useful in the long run, I do think it’s a worthwhile experiment, and something that is worth watching and seeing how it plays out over time. This, obviously, will be its most high profile and important decision to date.

The Board really only got up and running in late October, and didn’t announce its first cases until December. And, obviously, none of those were nearly as high profile or consequential as this question regarding former President Trump and his account.

Of course, that also makes this… a tricky issue. People have lots of opinions on the decision to suspend Trump, and many, many, many people are completely sure that their view (either for or against the suspension) is the only correct view. They are also quite sure that anyone who believes the opposite view is bad/corrupt/evil/biased/etc. Personally, I think the issue involves a lot of nuance, and there are reasonable arguments on both sides, especially if you taken into account the larger context.

Unfortunately, though, because people are so sure about what they think the result will be, it likely means that for a significant portion of people, no matter what the Oversight Board comes back with, it will be seen as illegitimate. If the Board agrees with Facebook’s decision to suspend, people will argue (falsely) that the Oversight Board is just there to rubber stamp and whitewash Facebook’s decisions. If the Board says the decision was a mistake, it will be seen by those who disagree as proof that Facebook never really wanted to ban Trump in the first place, and the move was just to give them political cover.

Like so much in the content moderation world, all of this puts those making these calls in a no win situation. But… at least from an outsider perspective, it should be fascinating to watch what happens and to understand the results. And, personally, as someone who spends way too much time thinking about the trade-offs and consequences of content moderation decisions, I hope to learn something from whatever the Board decides, whether or not I agree with their eventual recommendations and decision.

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Companies: facebook

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Comments on “Oversight Board Agrees To Review Facebook's Trump Suspension”

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16 Comments
Bloof (profile) says:

They’ll issue a toothless ruling that’s 2000 pages long and vague enough it an be interpreted a million ways when a simple ‘Ban’ or ‘not’ would be a million times more useful. Facebook will reinstate him regardless because they’re actively biased toward right wing content and his presence will drive traffic. That’s more important to them than any damage he’ll cause to American democracy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

…and here we see exactly what Mike was talking about.

I’m interested in this not because of their final recommendation, but to better understand the interplay of motivations, the degree of access the board has to internal information, and any useful guidelines that might come out of the investigation.

In short, this isn’t interesting because it’s about Trump and his actions on Facebook, it’s interesting in what light it will shine on moderation of famous people/actions in general. I’m also interested to see if they find that Facebook should have deliberated on this earlier than they did, or for reasons other than the ones that obviously motivated them to act.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Precisely this. The whole point of this is to see Facebook’s logic, thinking, and, if possible, find the holes where their logic falls apart for the future.

People demanding "I WISH IT WAS JUST LESS NUANCED" either lack foresight, or don’t care about this further than "Is this a win for my team (Y/N)?" There are way too many people like that on the internet, now. People who only see things as a win for a team and not an actual precedent that the world has to live with.

Sadly, Mike seems to be slowly becoming one of those people.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not to mention it’s not like he’s going to stop claiming that the election was ‘stolen’ from him(his ego simply won’t allow it), and with a recent and very memorable example of what that lie can lead to it’s very much in the public interest to limit how easily he can lie to people.

There’s also another side-effect in that if they let him back on they’ll have made it clear that if you’re powerful enough there are zero penalties for your actions on the platform, as at most you’ll face the temporary inconvenience of having your account suspended for a few days before being let back on, and even Facebook should be able to realize that is not a message they want to send, because if they thought he was bad before

Koby (profile) says:

I’m interested in this not because of their final recommendation, but to better understand the interplay of motivations, the degree of access the board has to internal information, and any useful guidelines that might come out of the investigation.

Rest assured they will base it on political considerations, and not guidelines. And that therefore gets to the problem with the decision, that binary censor/don’t censor decisions cannot have a nuanced outcome. I think it’s much more important to predict how the Facebook Spanish Inquisition board will operate, because it can lead you to know exactly how they will operate in most future decisions.

Strawb (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Rest assured they will base it on political considerations, and not guidelines.

You don’t know that yet.

[…]binary censor/don’t censor decisions cannot have a nuanced outcome.

I beg to differ. A thorough response with reasons for and against a decision can absolutely be nuanced, even if the end result is ban vs. don’t ban.

[…]it can lead you to know exactly how they will operate in most future decisions.

No, it can’t. Thinking that any decision will be indicative of future ones is fallacious.

Bloof (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So what exactly is it about Facebook that makes you feel they’re biased against the right? Is it Zuckerberg having off the record meetings with Trump? Is it the fact they appointed the Daily Caller as fact checkers? Is it the way it took an attempted coup to make them start banning far right conspiracy theory groups rather recommending them as they were doing and helping them to reach? Is it the way any attempt to fix the algorithms and stop right wing liars like Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino being the most widely shared news sources is blocked by management? Is it the way reputable left leaning news sources like Mother jones are actively pushed down the rankings by facebook themselves? Is it the way former GW Bush admin member and Roger Stone associate Joel Kaplan is positioned to control political ‘fairness’ within the company and has openly worked to attack the left and block any attempt to fight the platform bring used as a recruitment tool? Is it the way the board of the company itself is filled with republican and libertarians? Is it the way the site treats the likes of Brietbart as trusted news sources?

They are anything but biased against the right, any attempt to claim otherwise is utterly disingenuous. This isn’t the Spanish inquisition, this is a toothless board put in place as a PR move that can only make recommendations that the company will ultimately overrule.

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re:

"Rest assured they will base it on political considerations, and not guidelines."

It’s already been proven that if they followed guidelines, Trump would have been banned long ago. Favortism was given to Trump.

"This test proves Jack ain’t lying—Twitter treats Trump differently [UPDATED]
Repeating a call to shoot looters got @SuspendThePres a visit from the banhammer."
https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/06/bot-banned-from-twitter-for-repeating-trumps-tweets-verbatim/

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This. I wish Techdirt’s populace would realize that this is actually a nuanced grey area decision that affects how politics should be discussed on the internet and not "HATE TRUMP/LOVE TRUMP" binary decision that all of us seem to have fallen into.

I don’t think ANY politician should be contactable solely over Facebook/twitter, if they should have a presence there at all.
These are private organizations and I can’t talk to my public representative anymore without having an account with them.

But clearly my opinion isn’t in the majority, so if politicians require a social media presence, then we have to seriously re-think how social media interacts with the public sector.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I wish Techdirt’s populace would realize that this is actually a nuanced grey area decision that affects how politics should be discussed on the internet and not "HATE TRUMP/LOVE TRUMP" binary decision that all of us seem to have fallen into.

If he was anyone else other than a sitting President, Trump would almost certainly have been banned or suspended a long time ago. I agree there are policy decisions to consider, which is why we should see what comes of the Oversight Board’s look into this to see what happens and not jump to conclusions about what will happen like Koby did.

I don’t think ANY politician should be contactable solely over Facebook/twitter, if they should have a presence there at all.

Agreed, but I don’t believe that is true of any politician.

These are private organizations and I can’t talk to my public representative anymore without having an account with them.

Huh? There’s a portal that shows you how to contact your representative through other means, such as by phone, mail, or email. If your representative doesn’t have any other means to contact them, that’s on them, but I highly doubt it.

But clearly my opinion isn’t in the majority,

I haven’t really seen evidence of that here.

so if politicians require a social media presence, then we have to seriously re-think how social media interacts with the public sector.

I disagree. At most, it suggests that we should have to re-think how the public sector interacts with their constituents online. It’s not the social media companies’ problem.

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