Who is on the Facebook oversight board and who have they banned?

Line-up of lawyers, academics and experts are funded by $130m Facebook grant

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Wednesday 05 May 2021 14:16 BST

White House vows to ignore Trump if Facebook reinstates him

The Facebook Oversight Board announced on Wednesday that Donald Trump’s account will remain banned from the social media platform.

Mr Trump will have no form of appeal the ban, which was put in place in the wake of the deadly US Capitol riot.

The oversight board was created as an independent and neutral third party to review the company’s most difficult decisions, and is funded by a $130m trust from the social media giant.

The board, which currently has 20 members, was first proposed by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2018 but only began making decisions in October 2020.

The aim is eventually for it to be made up of 40 experts in the law, journalism, freedom of speech, digital rights, internet censorship and extremism, but just 19 are sitting on Mr Trump’s case.

Members include Alan Rusbridger, former editor in chief of The Guardian newspaper; Andras Sajo, a former judge and VP of the European Court of Human Rights; and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former prime minister of Denmark.

Board membership is a part-time position but everyone on it reportedly receives training.

Since it began to rule on Facebook decisions on controversies such as blackface, Covid-19 disinformation and threats of violence on the platform, it has gone against the company six times, upheld their decisions twice and was unable to come to a ruling on one occasion.

In each case it hears, the board created a five-person panel, which includes at least one person from the country the case comes from.

Those five people are never named publicly, to prevent them being lobbied or pressured.

After they meet by video conference call they try to reach a unanimous decision, but a simple majority is acceptable.

They then take that decision back to the full board, which can overrule it if a majority of the board does not agree with it.

The decision on Mr Trump was the biggest case it has been asked to consider so far, and received more than 9,000 public comments.

Critics of the board have claimed that it is set up and paid for by Facebook to shield the company from having to take difficult and politically sensitive decisions.

“Obviously, Facebook has its own motives in this. Let’s be clear. They’re a profit-making enterprise,” Suzanne Nossel, CEO of free expression organisation PEN America, told CNN Business.

“They wouldn’t have done this if they didn’t think it was good for business. They have taken some steps in putting money in a trust and creating an independent set of trustees that oversee the board itself. 

“And so there are some efforts to make it genuinely independent.

“Whether those go far enough, whether circumstances arise that test or challenge those parameters, we’ll have to see, but I think it’s crucial, if the board is going to play any kind of useful role, that that independence be absolutely respected.”

In the board’s first rulings in January it overturned four of Facebook’s decisions and upheld just one.

In one decision the board overturned Facebook’s decision to take down a post for violating its rules against hate speech.

A user in Myanmar had posted pictures of a child who died fleeing Syria, that included the phrase “[there is] something wrong with Muslims psychologically.”

The board said that it viewed the phrase as “commentary on the apparent inconsistency between Muslims’ reactions to events in France and in China.”

But the board upheld Facebook’s decision to remove a post that included a slur to describe the Turkic ethnic group Azerbaijanis.

The board stated that it “found that the removal of this post was consistent with international human rights standards on limiting freedom of expression.” 

In another decision, it overturned Facebook’s decision to take down a post critical of the French government for not authorising hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19. Mr Trump pushed the drug as a potential cure for the coronavirus despite medical experts advising against it. The then-president said he was taking the drug to ward off the disease although he later contracted it and had to be treated at Walter Reed Medical Center.

The board disagreed that the post would cause “imminent harm” because a prescription is needed for the drug in France and the post was not encouraging people to take it without one.

Full board membership

  • Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, human rights advocate at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa
  • Evelyn Aswad, University of Oklahoma College of Law professor, previously served as a senior US State Department lawyer
  • Endy Bayuni, journalist and former editor-in-chief of the Jakarta Post
  • Catalina Botero-Marino, Facebook Oversight Board co-chair, dean of the Universidad de los Andes Faculty of Law
  • Katherine Chen, professor at the National Chengchi University, former national communications regulator in Taiwan
  • Nighat Dad, digital rights advocate who received the Human Rights Tulip Award
  • Jamal Greene, Facebook Oversight Board co-chair, Columbia Law professor
  • Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize laureate
  • Maina Kiai, director of Human Rights Watch’s Global Alliances and Partnerships programme
  • Sudhir Krishnaswamy, vice chancellor of the National Law School of India University
  • Ronaldo Lemos, technology, intellectual property and media lawyer, teaches law at Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
  • Michael McConnell, Facebook Oversight Board co-chair, Stanford Law professor, former federal circuit judge
  • Suzanne Nossel, CEO of free expression organisation PEN America
  • Julie Owono, digital rights and anti-censorship advocate, leads Internet Sans Frontieres
  • Emi Palmor, former director general of Israeli Ministry of Justice
  • Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian newspaper
  • Andras Sajo, former judge and vice president of the European Court of Human Rights
  • John Samples, leads libertarian think tank and writes on social media and speech regulation
  • Nicolas Suzor, Queensland University of Technology Law School professor
  • Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Facebook Oversight Board co-chair, former Prime Minister of Denmark

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