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Facebook's 'Supreme Court' is about to face its

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Facebook's 'Supreme Court' is about to face its first big test
By: Engadget | April 16, 2021

• Facebook's Oversight Board is about more than just Donald Trump.

Facebook’s Oversight Board will soon make its most consequential decision yet: whether or not Donald Trump’s “indefinite suspension” from Facebook and Instagram should be lifted.

The ruling will be the biggest test yet for the Oversight Board, Facebook’s most ambitious attempt yet to prove that it can regulate itself. The Trump decision will also likely shape public perception of the organization, which has so far issued less than dozen decisions.

But the Oversight Board, which has been widely described as “Facebook’s Supreme Court,” was set up to deal with more than just Trump. The Facebook-funded organization is meant to help the social network navigate its most complicated and controversial decisions around the world. It could also end up influencing Facebook’s broader policies — if the company allows it.

Facebook’s ‘Supreme Court’

The board itself has only been functional for less than a year, though the organization actually dates back to 2018. That’s when a Harvard professor and longtime friend of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg reportedly proposed that Facebook create a kind of “Supreme Court” for its most controversial content moderation decisions. That idea formed the basis for what we now know as the Oversight Board.

According to Facebook, the Oversight Board is meant to be fully independent. But the social media company provided the initial $130 million in funding — meant to last six years — and helped choose the board’s members. Throughout the process, Mark Zuckerberg was “heavily involved in the board’s creation,” The New Yorker reported in its deep dive into the origins and early days of the Oversight Board.

On the other hand, the Oversight Board has gone out of its way to emphasize its independence. Its public policy manager, Rachel Wolbers, even recently suggested that the board could one day weigh content moderation decisions for other platforms. “We hope that we’re going to do such a great job that other companies might want our help,” she said at an appearance at SXSW.



For now, the board has 19 members from all over the world (there were originally 20, but one left in February to join the Justice Department). Eventually, it will expand to 40, though its charter allows for the exact number to “increase or decrease in size as appropriate.

Its first members include Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian; Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former prime minister of Denmark; and John Samples, the vice-president of the libertarian Cato Institute. All members “have experience in, or experience advocating for, human rights,” according to the board. And all members receive six-figure salaries for their part-time work with the organization.

However, unlike the actual Supreme Court, the Oversight Board comes with term limits. Members are limited to three three-year terms.

How the Oversight Board works

* * *

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