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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Filed Under: content moderation, donald trump, oversight board
Companies: facebook


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  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 12:17pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jan 2021 @ 12:46pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2021 @ 9:30pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 21 Jan 2021 @ 1:26pm

    I say leave him banned.

    Misinformation on the election dropped by 75% since he was banned.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 10:34pm

      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...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Koby (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 2:54pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Strawb (profile), 22 Jan 2021 @ 12:38am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 22 Jan 2021 @ 1:19am

      Re:

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

      Even if your random fantasies are uncharacteristically correct, so what? Facebook have the same right to be biased politically as Parler did, and will have again what their Russian backers get them back online.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2021 @ 9:28pm

        Re: Re:

        you say that like Facebook wasn't given hundreds of thousands from Russia to host political ads in recent memory.
        Makes it seem like maybe they SHOULDN'T have that kind of freedom, doesn't it?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 22 Jan 2021 @ 10:17pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          That's a different conversation, but if you wish to remove political freedom from that site alone, you have to work out a way to do that without removing it from everyone else and not violating the first amendment in the process. Good luck.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 22 Jan 2021 @ 6:21am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 22 Jan 2021 @ 6:23am

      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-t rumps-tweets-verbatim/

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2021 @ 9:26pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 22 Jan 2021 @ 10:15pm

        Re: Re:

        "I don't think ANY politician should be contactable solely over Facebook/twitter"

        No politician is solely contactable via those methods, no matter how much Trumpers whine about the consequences of him misusing his preferred method of communication.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        bhull242 (profile), 23 Jan 2021 @ 10:49am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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