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  • Updated: April 15, 2021

Facebook's ‘Supreme Court’ Weighs Trump’s Return To The Social Media Platform

Facebook's ‘Supreme Court’ Weighs Trump’s Return To Th

Facebook Inc. has announced that the company’s de facto "Supreme Court" of content tends towards ruling on Trump’s return to the world’s largest social media network or remain banned permanently.

Trump was suspended from Facebook, and forbidden from sharing content with his 35 million followers after his post encouraged a violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol. The ban was extended indefinitely, meaning that Trump Facebook page has been frozen for more than three months,

This has escalated into prolonged allegations of political bias against conservatives and adding fire to the debate about social media companies’ refereeing of speech.

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The Supreme Court (Oversight Board), is an independent group of lawyers, academics and journalists whose decision in the coming days will determine if Trump will be reinstated on Facebook. The board is a form of checks and balances, challenging its power as the company responsible for policing the world’s speech and holding it accountable when it missteps.

If the board restores Trump’s account, Facebook will contend with fresh criticism that it doesn’t do enough to stop dangerous and false information from spreading on its platform. Banning Trump permanently is apt to spark even more backlash from conservatives who favor a more hands-off approach to content moderation.

The board’s ruling will set a precedent for how Facebook handles future posts from political leaders around the world who rely on the platform to make or break policy, win elections and influence social movements.

Former Public Policy Director at Facebook, Katie Harbath said that “For a company like Facebook, it is putting them back at the center, the epicenter of a lot of these debates around where the line is around legal but harmful content,”

“There is both what’s at stake for Facebook, but then also what’s at stake I think more broadly in terms of the debate and the questions around how world leaders should be held accountable for the things that they say and push on the internet.”

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Snapchat parent Snap Inc., Alphabet Inc’s YouTube were among other companies that took the extraordinary step to suspend Trump’s account after the president posted videos of a Washington rally in which he repeated false claim of a rigged November election and support for rioters. Twitter Inc., Trump’s favorite social network, banned him permanently and executives say it has no plans to reverse that decision

The Ruling will increase the scrutiny of both the company and the Oversight Board; this has always been the longstanding argument by Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook shouldn’t be making so many decisions about what speech is acceptable on its service.

Zuckerberg first made the announcement for an “independent body” to review content decisions in late 2018, but the board didn’t start operating for almost two years. During that time, Zuckerberg repeatedly defended his company’s responsibility to protect freedom of speech and his desire to keep Facebook from becoming an arbiter of truth, Bloomberg reported.

Director of the Oversight Board administration, Thomas Hughes said in an interview about the board’s role that the company is aware of the fact that its decisions will not please all stakeholders all the time and that shows a simple reality of the type of work the board is engaged in.

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“At this point, @Facebook’s Oversight Board is another attempt to appear accountable even while FB’s leadership has set the board up for failure,” Facebook critic and Color of Change President Rashad Robinson tweeted earlier this year. “We need strong & transparent content moderation, not a ruling as to whether or not they were right to ban racists in the first place.”

“This is exactly the type of thing that the board was meant to do and why it was created to help think through these thorny questions,” Harbath said.

The Board was unveiled in mid-2020 and includes an array of academics, human rights activists, and even Tawakkol Karman, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. On April 13, the board said it would expand its mandate to let users appeal posts that Facebook allows to remain on its platform, not just those that were removed. To handle the increased caseload, the panel will grow from roughly 20 members to about 40 in the coming months.

In one of the board's seven cases, it has reviewed and issued a ruling, it overturned Facebook’s initial decision to take down content in five of them, including one post about Covid-19 cures that the company deemed a threat to user safety.

That track record was seen as a sign to some on the outside that the Oversight Board is likely to reinstate Trump.

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If the Trump ban is upheld, Facebook may come under more pressure to take action against other world leaders who use social media to spread misinformation, lies, or hateful content to further their authoritarian aims. In February, Facebook kicked Myanmar’s military off its platform after the country’s democratic government was overthrown in a military coup.

World leaders that Facebook could target include France’s far-right leader, Marine Le Pen; India Prime Minister Narendra Modi; and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, according to Harbath. Bolsonaro’s posts were removed last year by Facebook and other platforms for violating the companies’ coronavirus misinformation policies.

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