Facebook’s ‘Supreme Court’ Tells Zuckerberg He’s the Decider

When Mr. Zuckerberg first pitched the concept of a “Facebook Supreme Court” a number of years in the past, he promoted it as a technique to make the corporate’s governance extra democratic, by forming an unbiased physique of material consultants and giving them the facility to listen to appeals from customers.

“I think in any kind of good-functioning democratic system, there needs to be a way to appeal,” Mr. Zuckerberg advised Ezra Klein in a 2018 Vox podcast.

The oversight board additionally served one other goal. For years, Mr. Zuckerberg had been known as in as Facebook’s coverage decide of final resort. (In 2018, for instance, he got personally involved within the choice to bar Alex Jones, the Infowars conspiracy theorist.) But high-profile moderation choices had been typically unpopular, and the blowback was typically fierce. If it labored, the oversight board would take duty for making the platform’s most contentious content material choices, whereas shielding Mr. Zuckerberg and his coverage staff from criticism.

It’s onerous to think about a dispute Mr. Zuckerberg can be extra desirous to keep away from than the one about Mr. Trump. The former president rode Facebook to the White House in 2016, then tormented the corporate by repeatedly skirting its guidelines and daring executives to punish him for it. When they lastly did, Republicans raged at Mr. Zuckerberg and his lieutenants, accusing them of politically motivated censorship.

Facebook confronted loads of stress within the different route, too — each from Democrats and civil rights teams and from staff, a lot of whom noticed Mr. Trump’s presence on Facebook as basically incompatible with their aim of decreasing dangerous misinformation and hate speech. No matter what Mr. Zuckerberg and his staff determined, they had been certain to inflame the web speech wars and make extra enemies.

Before the choice on Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg and different Facebook executives did the whole lot they might to persuade a skeptical public that the oversight board would have actual enamel. They funded the group by way of a legally unbiased belief, crammed it with hyper-credentialed experts and pledged to abide by its rulings.

But for all its claims of legitimacy, the oversight board has all the time had a Potemkin high quality to it. Its leaders had been chosen by Facebook, and its members are (handsomely) paid out of the corporate’s pockets. Its mandate is limited, and none of its rulings are binding, in any significant sense of that phrase. If Mr. Zuckerberg determined tomorrow to disregard the board’s recommendation and reinstate Mr. Trump’s accounts, nothing — no act of Congress, no judicial writ, no indignant letter from Facebook shareholders — might cease him.