Facebook Oversight Board Decides Trump Case

May 4, 2021

Who Are The Gatekeepers?

An "independent board" decides the fate of a former U.S. president on social media platforms with billions of users worldwide.
Who They Are & Why It Matters
"The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account. However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension."

The Board upheld the suspension (for now) but ordered Facebook to review it within six months to determine & justify a “proportionate response” consistent with the rules applied to other users and its policy recommendations.


  • Jan 6 & 7: Facebook deemed former Pres. Trump in violation of its policies due to his posts about the Capitol Hill riot & election results.
  • The posts were removed and he was suspended. The next day, the suspension was extended “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks.”
  • Jan 21: Facebook’s Oversight Board accepted a referral from Facebook seeking a review of the indefinite suspension.

Facebook Oversight Board

  • Independent body created and funded by Facebook (through an endowment managed by trustees) to navigate difficult content decisions.
  • “The board operates like a Supreme Court for content” (Wall Street Journal) issuing rulings on what content Facebook & Instagram should allow or remove “based on respect for freedom of expression and human rights.
  • The board issues decisions & can make content policy recommendations, which Facebook must implement within a week.

The Board Members:

  • Currently made up of 20 members (could vary from 11 – 40 members) initially chosen by Facebook “for the diversity of their expertise and the quality of their judgment.”
  • Experts in a range of fields such as journalism, constitutional law, & freedom of expression.
  • Members come from across the globe, incl. the U.S., Kenya, Taiwan, Pakistan, etc.
  • In January 2021, the board issued its first 5 rulings (overturning 4 of Facebook’s decisions) and 9 policy recommendations.

The Decision-Making Process:

  • Once the board decides to take up a case (via referrals from Facebook or appeals from users), that case is assigned to a panel of five of its members; we won’t know which five.
  • The panel examines whether the content at issue violates Facebook’s Community Standards or human rights standards, and considers information from Facebook, the user, public comments and outside experts.
  • The panel presents its decision to the full board for review. The board’s final decision is binding.

Something To Consider:

  • Your First Amendment right to free speech applies to govt. censorship – NOT social media sites run by private companies.
  • Social media sites are free to set their own rules (to which users agree when they sign up) about what type of content is allowed.
  • Federal law allows companies to take “good faith” actions to restrict access to excessively violent, obscene, or “otherwise objectionable” content regardless of whether it’s constitutionally protected – this may include prohibitions against false or misleading posts.

This case is not important simply because of former Pres. Trump, but also because of the precedent it sets for other high-profile users, world leaders, as well as Facebook’s 2.85+ billion users and Instagram’s 1+ billion users.



by Jenna Lee,