Talking tech since 2003

I haven't been happy with Mark Zuckerberg or Facebook lately. I've made that quite clear as of recent when I called for both Zuck and Sheryl Sandberg to step down. As I wrote back in June:

Fast forward to today and we see how the Russians and the Trump campaign utilized Facebook to spread disinformation and hate by abusing the system in some cases, but in others, simply using it in a way that Facebook had enabled through existing functionality.

Except it wasn't disinformation or hate that caused Facebook to suspend Trump's account. No, all it took was for Trump to incite an insurrection and have a violent mob storm the U.S. Capitol. Only when the literal foundation of our very democracy was under direct attack by a violent mob full did Facebook and others decide it was time to suspend and/or ban Trump from their platforms. It only took four years. Let that sink in for a minute – for four years, the world suffered a collective trauma while these companies made billions.

Now, Facebook has put Donald Trump's account in the hands of an Oversight Board that was created three years ago to act as a judicial branch for the company. The question now is whether this board has any real bite. The make up of the 20-person board is diverse, consisting of experts and civic leaders from around the world with a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. That being said, it raises the question – what happens with a 10-10 split?

Before we even get to that though, Lawfare has an excellent article with thoughtful analysis that I recommend you give a read too.

In the referral of the decision on what to do with Trump's account to the board, Facebook asked two questions. First, was Facebook’s decision to indefinitely suspend Donald Trump’s account correct, and should that suspension—which Facebook has said it will keep in place until the board issues its decision—be upheld or overturned? And second, does the board have any observations or recommendations about how Facebook should treat account suspensions when a user is a political leader?

The board's decision on the first question is binding – meaning, Zuck can't overturn it – regardless of the way they decide. In terms of the second question, is simply a request for policy guidance for the future – so it has lesser implications, but is still important.

But what really bugs me is, aside from the fact we have no history to look at in terms of how the board decides cases, is that the board is made up of an even number of people. If this is supposed to emulate the judiciary branch, why not have an odd-number of people on the board? I don't know, it just doesn't seem practical, nor does it seem like it would ultimately be very effective – at least with regard to ties, and especially since, as Lawfare points out, "There is currently no mechanism to break the infinite loop that may occur if a majority of the board is consistently dissatisfied with panel decisions."

I hope we don't have to ultimately worry about that outcome though. What I do worry about is what the final decision will be. In my opinion, it's important that the board show it has some teeth, but of course, that cuts both ways.

Here's how the case will be reviewed according to Lawfare:

The board currently has 20 members, but only a five-person panel will initially consider the case. Unlike an appellate court panel, though, the names of the panelists will not be released publicly. Four will be assigned at random. At least one panel member will be from the U.S.: as every panel must have a representative from the region the decision primarily affects and, while the region technically includes Canada, the board does not currently have any Canadian members. After reviewing the information about the case, the panel will draft a written decision, which may include any concurring or dissenting views if the panel cannot reach consensus.
The 20-member board as a whole will then review this panel’s draft decision. If the board is not satisfied with the decision, a majority of the members can decide to send the case back for re-review, convening a new panel and starting the process again on an expedited timeline.

The implementation of the Oversight Board is a great idea and I believe in time, we will see it make a positive impact at the company and around the world. That being said, while I ultimately believe this board will make the right decision here (indefinitely ban Trump), the anxiety of waiting (it could be up to 90 days) sure is killer.


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