Facebook’s independent oversight board was set for a momentous decision on the platform’s ban of former US president Donald Trump, as debate swirls on the role of social media in curbing hateful and abusive speech while controlling political discourse.
The ruling set for release at 1300 GMT Wednesday is likely to be a defining moment for the leading social network’s so-called “supreme court”, envisioned by company founder Mark Zuckerberg to make thorny decisions on what to allow or remove from Facebook.
“This is a huge decision, it’s getting a lot attention and deservedly so,” said Daniel Kreiss, University of North Carolina professor and researcher specializing in politics and social media.
The oversight panel, comprised of jurists, policy experts, journalists and others from around the world, will be making perhaps its most significant decision at a time when social platforms are struggling to remain open to political discourse while filtering out incitements to violence, misinformation and abusive comments.
The US leader was banned permanently by Facebook the following day, and he was taken off other platforms including Twitter and YouTube.
Some analysts said Facebook and other social networks should have acted on Trump sooner, after years of giving him an exemption from rules on hateful content because of his “newsworthiness” as a political leader.
“He was using Facebook and other platforms to actively spread patently false content about electoral processes — very effectively undermining US democracy.”
But the move by Facebook and others has also drawn a torrent of criticism from Trump supporters, who argue that large tech platforms are biased and stifling opposing views.
Jameel Jaffer, executive director of Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, said the issue is more complex than simply evaluating Trump’s comments.
“These engineering decisions are often invisible, but they determine which speech proliferates on the platform, how quickly it spreads, who sees it, and in what context they see it.”