A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Anticipation is building for the Facebook Oversight Board’s looming decision on whether to keep or reverse a ban on former President Trump’s account. The board has said the decision will be announced “in the coming weeks.” And Axios added fuel to the speculation Thursday when it published a story about how world leaders are bracing for the announcement.
“This is going to be a global moment,” NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen commented. Indeed, Axios’ Sara Fischer and Jonathan Swan pointed out, “the decision will set a historic precedent for how the tech giant treats accounts of world leaders, and could be a litmus test for the board’s power.”
And yet, amid the high level of interest and the suspense, neither Facebook nor the Oversight Board are commenting. I checked in with both parties about the forthcoming decision and mum is the word.
A big test
The decision from the Facebook Oversight Board could, first and foremost, serve as the biggest demonstration of the board’s power and independence. There are quite a few critics who are skeptical that the board is truly independent from Facebook. And there have also been concerns from critics about whether Facebook will abide by the board’s recommendations. If the board were to buck Facebook and issue a decision that rebukes that of Facebook’s, it would be quite the moment and could solidify the board’s power or reveal it to be what some critics have suggested.
What we still don’t know
In addition to not knowing when the actual decision will come down or what it will be, there are still several other unanswered questions. If the board does reinstate Trump, how soon might we see his account reactivated? Could Facebook agree to follow such a recommendation, but not allow him on back until some more time has passed since the insurrection? Could Trump’s profile be reactivated, but in a more limited fashion? Might Facbeook implement additional restrictions on the account? And will the decision be less clear than simply saying whether Facebook should allow him back or not? Could the board make a decision in a more grey area that could be left open to interpretation?
How it could impact the GOP and news cycle
Donie O’Sullivan writes: “The decision from the board could change Trump’s behavior and the entire dynamic of Republican politics. Right now, Trump’s shadow looms large, but we normally only hear from him a few times a week through statements. Having the ability to post on Facebook could mean we are back to seeing Trump weighing in hourly, or multiple times an hour — whether it is what he sees on Fox or if it is armchair quarterbacking every move made by senior Republicans. Of course the question will be how much attention the GOP, the media, and voters, pay to what he says — but this decision could dramatically impact the daily political conversation and the power dynamic in the party.”
The potential political loophole
Donie adds: “Trump is no longer an elected official or a declared candidate, so if he were to be allowed back on Facebook, he would be subject to the company’s fact-checks where he was not before. So you could potentially — again, if you were to be permitted back on the site — expect a lot of friction between Facebook and Trump as they label his posts false or misleading. What would be quite interesting is if Trump were to decide to declare 2024 candidacy early just to get around Facebook’s fact-checking rules…”
For the record
— “As the tech world waits to see whether Facebook kicks Donald Trump out for good or lets him back in, lawmakers are following along, seeing the case as a milestone in the fraught relationship between Big Tech and free speech,” Caleb Ecarma writes. (Vanity Fair)
— Rep. Ro Khanna: “I’m less concerned about the fate of Donald Trump as much as I am about the precedent that this is setting for the removal and de-platforming of everyone else.” (Axios)
— HuffPost’s S.V. Dáte: “Facebook is going to decide whether it believes in democracy as a core value, or if it’s a neutral observer in the both-sides struggle between democracy and authoritarianism.” (Twitter)
— Latest scoop from Craig Silverman, Ryan Mac, and Jane Lytvynenko: “An internal task force found that Facebook failed to take appropriate action against the Stop the Steal movement ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, and hoped the company could ‘do better next time.'” (BuzzFeed)
— Susan Glasser’s warning: “The Trump administration is over, but the Trump crisis is not.” (New Yorker)