- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2021

Facebook’s Oversight Board said Monday it would decide this week whether to reverse or maintain the company’s ban against former President Donald Trump.

The board, which has responsibility for content enforcement and governance on Facebook’s platforms, said in a Twitter post that it would make its decision public around 9 a.m. Wednesday. If the board affirms the earlier ban but decides Mr. Trump’s access ought to be restored, it will be up to Facebook to determine how or when to permit his return.

Mr. Trump was suspended from Facebook on Jan. 6 after the riot at the U.S. Capitol, and several other tech platforms did likewise including prominent companies such as Twitter, which has enacted a permanent suspension against the former president, and Google-owned YouTube.

Facebook’s decision on Wednesday could affect the timing of other companies’ decisions about whether to follow Twitter’s approach to permanently banning Mr. Trump or YouTube’s pledge to reverse its ban online. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in March at an Atlantic Council event that her platform would scrap Mr. Trump’s suspension when it determined the risk of violence had decreased.

YouTube does not appear poised to restore Mr. Trump’s access before Facebook’s Oversight Board reaches a conclusion in Mr. Trump’s case. In response to questions about when YouTube intended to lift its ban, a company spokesperson said it had no update beyond Ms. Wojcicki’s pledge.

Whether and when other companies decide to restore Mr. Trump’s access to their services is just one factor that the oversight board will consider in its decision-making. Another factor is whether Facebook will accept and implement the decision of the board.

On its website, the board states that Facebook “will promptly implement” the board’s decision unless doing so violates the law and that Facebook will publicly respond to both content decisions and policy recommendations from the board. If the board decides that Mr. Trump’s previous ban was appropriate but recommends that the ban be lifted now, Facebook will face pressure from several different political actors about how to proceed.

From the political right, legislation is headed to the desk of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that would impose financial burdens on social networks such as Facebook that ban, or “deplatform,” candidates for statewide office. The legislation proposed a $250,000 penalty for each day that such a candidate was willfully deplatformed.

On the political left, liberal watchdog Media Matters for America has led a campaign urging Facebook to ban Trump permanently.

Facebook and the oversight board should know by now that Trump’s dangerous, racist, and sensational claims have no place on the platform, but they need pressure to act,” said Media Matters on its bantrumpnow.com campaign website. “If you have a Facebook account, you can push Facebook to ban Trump by reporting his old posts that break the rules. And, if they don’t remove them, you can now appeal that decision to the oversight board yourself to turn up the heat.”

The decision in Mr. Trump’s case provides the first major test of the board’s authority. The board operates with a $130 million trust from Facebook but is technically independent of the company.

To help the board get Facebook to adopt all of its decisions, it has previously sought to hire a “case decisions implementation and monitoring officer” responsible for tracking whether Facebook followed the board’s direction, according to a job listing on LinkedIn.

Some at Facebook want the board to validate its decision to ban a sitting U.S. president.

Facebook Vice President Nick Clegg, who previously served as deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that the company’s executives “hope & expect” the board would confirm its ban of Mr. Trump, according to a tweet announcing the board’s review earlier this year.

Last month, the oversight board extended its timeline to reach a decision in Mr. Trump’s case and cited receiving more than 9,000 responses to its request for public comments on this case.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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