Facebook’s oversight board on Tuesday tapped as its newest member a prominent human rights lawyer who has argued that the company may have a tough time selling the panel on why it should uphold former President Donald Trump’s suspension from the platform.
The significance: Board spokesman John Taylor told POLITICO that the new member, Suzanne Nossel, will not participate in the deliberations over Trump’s case, and will instead spend the upcoming weeks undergoing training for members. But her earlier views offer a glimpse into what factors the board’s current members may be considering as they take up Trump’s case — which could bode well for him.
Nossel, the CEO of human rights group PEN America, wrote in a January op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that Facebook’s “silencing of Trump” was a “testament to the staggering influence of Facebook and a few other media companies over public discourse.”
Nossel, a veteran of the Obama administration, argued the board will need to consider whether Facebook’s decision to restrict Trump was clearly grounded in specific violations of its policies and consistent with the company’s other enforcement actions against the former U.S. president and other world leaders.
That could be difficult to prove, she argued, given that Facebook “cited no specific rule-breaking post” in announcing Trump’s suspension after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said at the time that the risk of allowing Trump to remain on the site in the wake of the violence in Washington was “simply too great.”
Nossel also suggested that Facebook had ulterior motives, both politically and financially, in booting Trump.
“The Facebook Oversight Board’s decision on the Trump case … will show whether that expulsion can be justified by something other than an impulse to appease angry users and butter up a new administration,” she wrote in the piece, headlined: “Banning Trump from Facebook may feel good. Here’s why it might be wrong.”
Human rights lawyers and other free speech experts tracking the case told POLITICO the board may opt to reinstate Trump if Facebook can’t prove Trump was given proper due process under its rules. The case has drawn public massive interest, with the board receiving a record number of submissions for comment on the proceedings.
A notable figure in debates over free speech: Nossel has led PEN America, a nonprofit that says it works to “protect free expression in the United States and worldwide,” since 2013.
She had been chief operating officer of Human Rights Watch and executive director of Amnesty International, two NGOs that also work on issues of human rights and free expression. In the Obama administration, she was deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations.
Nessel fills a vacancy left by Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law professor and renowned voting rights scholar who decamped from the board to join the Biden Justice Department’s civil rights division in February. Karlan drew national attention for testifying in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Trump’s impeachment in 2019.
The New Yorker reported in February that Trump had pressured Zuckerberg to drop Karlan from the board.
The announcement brings the board back to its initial full complement of 20 members, five from the U.S.
Where the Trump case stands: On Monday, the board announced it would delay issuing a ruling on Trump’s indefinite suspension from the platform, a case it has been deliberating since January.
Facebook referred the case to the board, which has the power to overrule its content decisions, after the Jan. 6 attack.