Trump Wants Back on Facebook. This Star-Studded Jury Might Let Him.

A new kind of corporate supercourt is looking for legitimacy.

By Ben Smith

They meet mostly on Zoom, but I prefer to picture the members of this court, or council, or whatever it is, wearing reflective suits and hovering via hologram around a glowing table. The members include two people who were reportedly on presidential shortlists for the U.S. Supreme Court, along with a Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a British Pulitzer winner, Colombia’s leading human rights lawyer and a former prime minister of Denmark. The 20 of them come, in all, from 18 countries on six continents, and speak 27 languages among them.

This is the Oversight Board, a hitherto obscure body that will, over the next 87 days, rule on one of the most important questions in the world: Should Donald J. Trump be permitted to return to Facebook and reconnect with his millions of followers?

The decision has major consequences not just for American politics, but also for the way in which social media is regulated, and for the possible emergence of a new kind of transnational corporate power at a moment when almost no power seems legitimate.

The board will seriously examine the Trump question, guided by Facebook’s own rules as well as international human rights law. If Facebook accepts its rulings, as it has pledged to do, as well as the board’s broader guidance, the company will endow this obscure panel with a new kind of legitimacy.

“Either it’s nothing, or it’s the New World Order,” said a lecturer at Harvard Law School who studies content moderation, Evelyn Douek, who pushed Facebook to send the Trump case to the Oversight Board.

It might surprise you to know that such a board exists — that one of the world’s most powerful executives would go to such lengths to give up control of a key tool, the delete key. But after four years of unending criticism for being too slow to act on the rise of right-wing populism on the platform, and parallel complaints from the right over alleged censorship, you can see why Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, was drawn to the idea of handing the thorniest calls off to experts, and washing his hands of the decisions.

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