Facebook hands decision on Trump ban to its oversight board

Facebook puts Trump on internal trial: Social media giant refers decision to permanently ban former president to its left-leaning ‘supreme court’ oversight board

  • Facebook is allowing its left-leaning ‘supreme court’ oversight board to decide if Donald Trump should be permanently banned
  • Trump had his Facebook and Instagram accounts suspended after the deadly January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol at the hands of MAGA mob rioters
  • The social media giant said on Thursday that it stands by its decision to suspend Trump’s accounts but will defer to the seemingly-independent oversight board
  • Critics of the decision to ban Trump from Facebook say it is censorship and will have ‘serious free speech consequences’ going forward 
  • The board’s ruling on Trump can’t be overturned by CEO Mark Zuckerberg
  • The board is made up of 20 members and is co-chaired by left-leaning former Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt and ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger 
  • The board was created last year with the first four members chosen directly by Facebook. Facebook pays the salaries of the oversight board members 

Facebook is allowing its left-leaning ‘supreme court’ oversight board to decide whether Donald Trump should be permanently banned from the social media platform in what will be a major test for the recently formed panel.

Trump had his Facebook and Instagram accounts suspended in the wake of the deadly January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol at the hands of MAGA mob rioters. 

The social media giant said on Thursday that it stands by its decision to suspend Trump’s accounts but will defer to the seemingly-independent oversight board, which is known informally as the Facebook ‘supreme court’, to determine if it should be upheld permanently.   

The board was created last year to rule on thorny content issues, such as when posts constitute hate speech, or – in this case – if the major decision to ban a world leader was the right one. Facebook was criticized at the time over it’s left-leaning makeup.  

Its ruling on Trump, which is its biggest case to date, will be binding and can’t be overturned by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

The decision to ban Trump from Facebook has ranged from criticism that the now-former president should have been booted long ago to outrage that his online voice is being muted. 

Those critical of the decision have accused the social media giant of censorship and have warned they have drawn a dangerous line that will have ‘serious free speech consequences’ going forward.    

Facebook is allowing its ‘supreme court’ oversight board to decide whether Donald Trump should be permanently banned from the social media platform. The ruling on Trump will be binding and can’t be overturned by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The pair are pictured together in September 2019

Twitter, which also removed Trump’s accounts after the riots, has already said he is permanently banned from its platform. 

The decision on whether to let Trump back on Facebook will fall to a five-member panel. 

The oversight board is made up of 20 members in total and is co-chaired by former prime minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt and the former editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper Alan Rusbridger. Other members include legal scholars, human rights experts and journalists. 

It is not yet clear which of the five members will decide Trump’s online fate.  

The board was created last year with the first four members chosen directly by Facebook. Those initial members then worked with the social media giant to select the others. Facebook pays the salaries of the oversight board members.  

The social media giant was criticized when the makeup of its board was first announced last year with critics saying the so-called ‘politically neutral’ panel was swamped with left-wing luminaries like Thorning-Schmidt and Rusbridger.   

The board, which has since also been criticized for its delayed start and limited remit, has not yet ruled on any of its first batch of six cases that range from hate speech to graphic images.  

Trump’s accounts will remain suspended until its decision is handed down.   

Trump had his Facebook and Instagram accounts suspended in the wake of the deadly January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol at the hands of MAGA mob rioters (above)

The board was created last year to rule on thorny content issues, such as when posts constitute hate speech, or – in this case – if the major decision to ban a world leader was the right one. Its ruling on Trump will be binding and can’t be overturned by CEO Mark Zuckerberg

THE SIX CASES THE BOARD IS YET TO RULE ON 

– A screenshot of tweets by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad which said Muslims had a right to perpetrate violence against French people ‘for the massacres of the past.’

– A post with a photo of a deceased child that included commentary on China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. 

– A post that purported to show historical photos of churches in Baku, Azerbaijan, with a caption that Facebook said indicated ‘disdain’ for Azerbaijani people and support for Armenia.

– Instagram photos showing female nipples that the user in Brazil said aimed to raise awareness of breast cancer symptoms.

– An alleged quote from Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

– The one chosen case that was submitted by Facebook, rather than a user, was a post in a group claiming certain drugs could cure COVID-19, which criticized the French government’s response to the pandemic.  

Facebook did not ask for an expedited review so the board will have a maximum of 90 days to make a ruling and for Facebook to act on it. 

The administrators of Trump’s accounts will be able to submit a written statement challenging Facebook’s decision that the panel will consider.  

The board was created by Facebook last year in response to criticism of its handling of problematic content. 

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the board co-chair, said on Thursday: ‘That’s why we’re here, to not leave these decisions to the leadership of Facebook but actually use the Oversight Board to look at this in a principled way.’  

Facebook vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg, who is a former deputy British prime minister, said in a statement that he believes the decision to ban Trump was ‘necessary and right’. 

‘We hope, given the clear justification for our actions on January 7, that (the board) will uphold the choices we made,’ Clegg said. 

‘We have taken the view that in open democracies people have a right to hear what their politicians are saying – the good, the bad and the ugly – so that they can be held to account… But it has never meant that politicians can say whatever they like.’

In an interview with Reuters, Clegg said he felt there was a ‘crystal-clear link’ between the words of Trump and the actions of people at the Capitol.  

‘Whilst it was a controversial decision because he was the president of the United States, it actually wasn’t a particularly complicated one to take,’ he said. 

‘I’m very confident that any reasonable person looking at the circumstances in which we took that decision and looking at our existing policies will agree.’  


The oversight board is made up of 20 members in total. It is co-chaired by left-leaning former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger

US judge denies Parler’s bid to have web services immediately restored by Amazon 

A federal judge on Thursday rejected Parler’s demand that Amazon immediately restore web hosting services for the social media platform, which Amazon had cut off following the January 6 storming of the US Capitol.

US District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle said she wasn’t dismissing Parler’s ‘substantive underlying claims’ against Amazon, but said it had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction forcing it back online through Amazon’s web services.  

This means that while she didn’t rule for Amazon to restore Parler’s website immediately, the case still is making its way through the court and eventually could be ruled on in Parler’s favor – or not. 

The decision also said Parler had ‘failed to demonstrate that it is likely to prevail on the merits’ of any of the three claims it had presented to the court.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) suspended Parler on January 10. It came after Google and Apple removed Parler from their app stores, effectively making it unavailable as a smartphone app. 

AWS has said Parler violated its contract by ignoring repeated warnings to effectively address steady growth in violent content, including calls to assassinate prominent Democratic politicians, leading business executives and the media. 

Parler CEO John Matze asserted in a court filing that Parler’s abrupt shutdown was motivated at least partly by ‘a desire to deny President Trump a platform on any large social-media service’.

Facebook and other social media companies have come under fire for the proliferation of violent rhetoric and election misinformation on their platforms. 

That criticism only increased around the unrest at the Capitol, which was also incited and organized on social platforms.

Asked if Facebook bears partial responsibility for the actions that led the storming of the Capitol, Clegg said: ‘I accept there will always be people who say we knew this was going to happen. Dare I say it, I think it’s never quite as straightforward as that.’

He said he did not expect other major policy changes as a consequence of recent events.

‘I’m… keen not to raise expectations that because of one event we will therefore make very significant course corrections which then have to apply, because we’re a global company with global standards, to the rest of the world as well,’ he said.

The board announced last month that it had picked up the first six cases where it could overrule the social media company’s decisions to remove certain pieces of content from its platforms. 

The board said it had received 20,000 cases since it opened its doors to public submissions last October. 

The six chosen cases are:

A screenshot of tweets by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad which said Muslims had a right to perpetrate violence against French people ‘for the massacres of the past.’

A post with a photo of a deceased child that included commentary on China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. 

A post that purported to show historical photos of churches in Baku, Azerbaijan, with a caption that Facebook said indicated ‘disdain’ for Azerbaijani people and support for Armenia.

Instagram photos showing female nipples that the user in Brazil said aimed to raise awareness of breast cancer symptoms.

An alleged quote from Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

The one chosen case that was submitted by Facebook, rather than a user, was a post in a group claiming certain drugs could cure COVID-19, which criticized the French government’s response to the pandemic. 

Three of the six cases involved content that Facebook removed for breaking hate-speech rules. An Oversight Board spokesman said hate-speech cases had been “the most significant proportion” of appeals received. 

FACEBOOK’S ‘SUPREME COURT’: THE 20 OVERSIGHT BOARD MEMBERS 



Left to right: Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, Evelyn Aswad and Endy Bayuni

Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei – A human rights advocate who works on women’s rights, media freedom and access to information issues across Africa at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.

Evelyn Aswad – A University of Oklahoma College of Law professor who formerly served as a senior State Department lawyer and specializes in the application of international human rights standards to content moderation issues 

Endy Bayuni – A journalist who twice served as the editor-in-chief of The Jakarta Post, and helps direct a journalists’ association that promotes excellence in the coverage of religion and spirituality.



Left to right: Catalina Botero Marino, Katherine Chen and Nighat Dad

Catalina Botero Marino, co-chair – A former U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States who now serves as dean of the Universidad de los Andes Faculty of Law.

Katherine Chen – A communications scholar at the National Chengchi University who studies social media, mobile news and privacy, and a former national communications regulator in Taiwan.

Nighat Dad – A digital rights advocate who offers digital security training to women in Pakistan and across South Asia to help them protect themselves against online harassment, campaigns against government restrictions on dissent, and received the Human Rights Tulip Award.



Left to right:  Jamal Greene, Pamela Karlan and  Tawakkol Karman

Jamal Greene, co-chair – A Columbia Law professor who focuses on constitutional rights adjudication and the structure of legal and constitutional argument.

Pamela Karlan – A Stanford Law professor and Supreme Court advocate who has represented clients in voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and First Amendment cases, and serves as a member of the board of the American Constitution Society. Karlan had been asked to describe the differences between a U.S. president and a king during Trump’s impeachment hearing when she brought up the first son’s name. ‘The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron,’ Karlan told lawmakers. She later apologized.

Tawakkol Karman – A Nobel Peace Prize laureate who used her voice to promote nonviolent change in Yemen during the Arab Spring, and was named as one of ‘History’s Most Rebellious Women’ by Time magazine.



Left to right: Maina Kiai, Sudhir Krishnaswamy and Ronaldo Lemos

Maina Kiai – A director of Human Rights Watch’s Global Alliances and Partnerships Program and a former U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association who has decades of experience advocating for human rights in Kenya.

Sudhir Krishnaswamy – A vice chancellor of the National Law School of India University who co-founded an advocacy organization that works to advance constitutional values for everyone, including LGBTQ+ and transgender persons, in India.

Ronaldo Lemos – A technology, intellectual property and media lawyer who co-created a national internet rights law in Brazil, co-founded a nonprofit focused on technology and policy issues, and teaches law at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro.



Left to right: Michael McConnell, Julie Owono and Emi Palmor

Michael McConnell, co-chair – A former U.S. federal circuit judge who is now a constitutional law professor at Stanford, an expert on religious freedom, and a Supreme Court advocate who has represented clients in a wide range of First Amendment cases involving freedom of speech, religion and association.

Julie Owono – A digital rights and anti-censorship advocate who leads Internet Sans Frontières and campaigns against internet censorship in Africa and around the world.

Emi Palmor – A former director general of the Israeli Ministry of Justice who led initiatives to address racial discrimination, advance access to justice via digital services and platforms and promote diversity in the public sector.



Left to right: Alan Rusbridger, András Sajó and John Samples

Alan Rusbridger – A former editor-in-chief of The Guardian who transformed the newspaper into a global institution and oversaw its Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Edward Snowden disclosures. He was editor of the left-leaning Guardian newspaper for 20 years, which was chosen by Edward Snowden to publicise his NSA leaks and campaigned against the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States.

András Sajó – A former judge and vice president of the European Court of Human Rights who is an expert in free speech and comparative constitutionalism.

John Samples – A public intellectual who writes extensively on social media and speech regulation, advocates against restrictions on online expression, and helps lead a libertarian think tank.


Left to right: Nicolas Suzor and Helle Thorning-Schmidt

Nicolas Suzor – A Queensland University of Technology Law School professor who focuses on the governance of social networks and the regulation of automated systems, and has published a book on internet governance.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, co-chair – A former prime minister of Denmark who repeatedly took stands for free expression while in office and then served as CEO of Save the Children. The social democrat was elected in 2011 on a pro-immigration, high tax manifesto before losing power in 2015.

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