Reasons to celebrate Trump's return to Facebook
Meta's reinstatement of Trump's accounts show the power of self-regulatory organizations.
By Will Rinehart and Christopher Koopman
President Donald Trump’s accounts are returning to Facebook and Instagram after being reinstated by Meta. Regardless of how you may feel about big tech or Trump, there is no denying that the move isn’t just a big win for free speech. It is also clear evidence that there are effective methods of regulating social media that don't have the downsides of government regulation.
After all, it wasn't calls from Congress that prompted Meta to rethink their position. Nor was it an investigation, a lawsuit from a state's attorney general, or a series of hearings that put Meta on track for where we find ourselves today. Instead, it was the Oversight Board, an independent organization set up specifically to review Meta’s decisions, that created the pathway for Trump's return.
Meta just showed that path can be powerful.
In November 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg approved the creation of the Board and described it as a “Supreme Court,” since it had the ability to mediate the company's decisions. But the charter never granted the Board the ability to truly override company decisions.
When the Board first took up the issue of Trump’s deplatforming, we were critical. We were most concerned about what such a decision would do to their independence and credibility. Even then, the Board’s cases were far less inconsequential than the removal of the President. If Meta simply ignored the Board’s decision on Trump, it could have been the end of the oversight body’s reason for existence.
The soft power of the Board prevailed, and what we are now witnessing is perhaps the single greatest experiment in self-governance in our modern economy.
In a post that announced the decision, Meta's Nick Clegg made clear that Trump’s reinstatement and modifications to the company’s content moderation policies were the direct results of the Oversight Board’s review. It was the Board that “criticized the open-ended nature of the suspension and the lack of clear criteria for when and whether suspended accounts will be restored,” Clegg noted. And it was also the Board that pressed the company “to review the matter to determine a more proportionate response.”
Meta changed in response to the Board and today Trump can come back to the platform due to these changes.
While no solution will be perfect, the Board demonstrates the potential for self-regulatory organizations (SRO). These non-government organizations exert some power over an industry or profession but usually aren’t backed by the power of the law. SROs have been critical to developing standards and norms on the Internet. So it is surprising that Meta is the only tech company dealing with tough decisions this way.
In the closing lines of the release, Meta admits that many would be critical of the decision to reinstate Trump. In all likelihood, without the board, Meta would be treating its "indefinite suspension" of Trump as a permanent ban.
Yet, the pushback from the Board forced the tech company to change course. As Clegg notes, “a decision had to be made, so we have tried to make it as best we can in a way that is consistent with our values and the process we established in response to the Oversight Board’s guidance.”
Bills being floated in Congress and in the states make it seem that the only way to change course is through onerous regulation. This announcement is proof that another path is possible.