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Meet the lawyers deciding Trump’s Facebook fate

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Social media giant’s Oversight Board is stuffed with legal experts

Donald Trump’s indefinite Facebook ban will be reviewed by a high-powered Oversight Board, the company has announced — meaning that lawyers will play a big role.

Once described by Mark Zuckerberg as a sort of “Supreme Court” of content moderation, the Oversight Board is a panel of experts who can issue binding decisions on what gets taken down from Facebook and Instagram.

Board panels review moderation decisions for compliance with Facebook’s internal policies, but also take account of “human rights norms protecting free expression”. Their written judgments will set precedents for moderators and future panels to follow.

Facebook says that its decision to cancel Trump was “necessary and right”, but “given its significance, we think it is important for the board to review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld”.

The Oversight Board began accepting cases in October 2020 and will eventually have around 40 members. Of the 20 members announced so far, at least 13 have a legal background.

They include Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, a human rights lawyer with dual Ghanian and South African citizenship who has worked on development and human rights programmes across Africa.

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Joining her are the likes of Nighat Dad, a Pakistani digital rights campaigner, and Julie Owono of Internet Sans Frontières — both legally qualified.

Legal academia is well represented too. Two law professors from Stanford, Michael McConnell and Pamela Karlan, are included, along with Jamal Greene from Columbia and Evelyn Aswad from the University of Oklahoma.

Producing judgments should be a doddle for one board member in particular: András Sajó used to be on the European Court of Human Rights. He describes the new gig as “an intellectual challenge that one cannot refuse”.

Big names from outside the legal world include former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. The Facebook spokesperson who announced that Trump’s case will go to the Oversight Board is Nick Clegg, deputy Prime Minister between 2010 and 2015.

A five-member panel will sit in judgement on Trump, but its decision must be ratified by a majority of the entire Board. A decision is supposed to be taken within 90 days.

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