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Explained: What is the Oversight Board that will decide on Trump’s FB access?

Facebook has referred the decision to restore former US President Donald Trump’s account to the Oversight Board. Trump’s Facebook account was suspended indefinitely a day after the Capitol Hill siege took place on January 6.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 30, 2021 10:56:00 am
Facebook announced that it will block Trump from all its platforms until at least the end of his term, which concluded on January 20.(Photo: Bloomberg)

Facebook has referred the decision to restore former US President Donald Trump’s account to the Oversight Board. Trump’s Facebook account was suspended indefinitely a day after the Capitol Hill siege took place on January 6.

Why was Trump’s Facebook account suspended?

A day after a mob of angry and armed Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill in Washington DC, Facebook announced that it will block Trump from all its platforms until at least the end of his term, which concluded on January 20. Twitter had followed suit but lifted the suspension on Trump’s account a couple of days after the siege.

In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg, the tech giant’s CEO said on January 7 that “we believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely…”.

A few days after January 6, Apple, Amazon and Google suspended the social network called Parler, which was popular among conservative users in the US saying that the platform did not take enough measures to make sure that content inciting violence remained in check.

Blocking Trump’s access to social media reignited the debate on the power that tech companies have in censoring content. A report in The Financial Times said that while Trump’s critics have applauded his “deplatforming”, “which many say were long overdue. But others worry that the moves demonstrate how much political power has been built up by a handful of private companies.”

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What is the Oversight Board?

The Oversight Board was proposed in 2018 primarily to decide “what to take down, what to leave up – and why”. It is a separate entity from Facebook whose first members were announced in May 2020 and includes academicians and experts from different fields such as law, digital rights and technology. The purpose of the body is to “promote free expression by making principled, independent decisions regarding content on Facebook and Instagram”.

How does it work?

The board was established last year and gives users the ability to appeal to the board, giving them a chance to challenge content decisions on Facebook and Instagram. For instance, if a user on any of the two platforms has requested that either of them review one of their content decisions and the user is not happy with the final decision, he or she can write an appeal to the board.

However, this does not mean that the board will oversee all appeals, but will select cases based on how significant and difficult they are and if they are globally relevant and have the potential to inform future policy.

In December, the board announced some of the first cases that it will be deliberating over. Out of 20,000 cases that were referred to the board, it has selected only six because they have the potential to affect most users around the world and are important since they raise questions about Facebook’s policies.

One of the cases pertains to a user in the US who reshared a memory post that mentioned an alleged quote from Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, on on the need to appeal to emotions and instincts, instead of intellect, and on the unimportance of truth. Facebook removed this post since it violated its policy on “dangerous individuals and organisations”. In their appeal to the board, the user said that the quote is important since the user considered Trump’s presidency to be following a fascist model.

The New York Times has referred to the board as a “corporate superboard”, which is expected to decide over the course of the next 87 days if Trump should be given back his access to his Facebook account.

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