Facebook's 'Supreme Court' taking comments on Trump's suspension

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The independent group that will decide whether former President Donald Trump can return to Facebook is officially taking public comment on the case.

Facebook’s Oversight Board, a group that includes legal experts and human rights advocates, said in an announcement Friday that people and groups with “valuable perspectives” on Trump’s indefinite suspension from the social media platform have until Feb. 8 to weigh in via its online form.

The group has until April to decide on whether to reinstate the former president’s Facebook account, which the company froze after a throng of his supporters sacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, and will use the public comments as part of its deliberation process. The board, often likened to a “supreme court” for Facebook, has the power to overrule content decisions by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his executives.

“It’s an important case, and so we’ll work as quickly as we can, consistent with deciding the case in a principled and consistent way,” Jamal Greene, a Columbia Law School professor and co-chair of the body, told POLITICO. “We’ll all work hard to decide it as quickly as we can do responsibly.”

The public comments will be posted online when the board publishes its ruling in the Trump case.

The case represents a watershed moment on the limits that social media companies can impose on elected officials for online posts targeting potentially tens of millions of would-be voters. Trump also remains suspended by numerous other platforms, including Twitter.

Facebook has come under scrutiny from Republicans over accusations that it and other tech giants censor conservatives’ speech, while Democrats blame the company for not acting swiftly enough to clamp down on Trump’s partisan comments before and during the Jan. 6 riots.

The Oversight Board’s decision in the Trump case will be binding on Facebook. In its first series of rulings, announced Thursday, the group ruled against the company’s decisions to remove online posts in four out of five cases involving issues such as religious bias and threats of violence.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former Danish prime minister and another co-chair of the group, told POLITICO not to interpret those as a precedent for how the body may eventually rule in Trump’s case. “You can’t read anything into that,” she said.

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