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‘Who is guarding Facebook’s guardians?’ Lawmakers can step up oversight

Cornell University
5-May-2021 2:05 PM EDT, by Cornell University

Facebook’s Oversight Board voted to uphold the social media company’s suspension of former President Donald Trump on its platforms but insisted the company must review the suspension to determine an appropriate length of time and develop clearer policies to balance freedom of expression and public safety.

Sarah Kreps, a professor of government at Cornell University, studies technology, international politics and national security, and is the author of the book “Social Media and International Relations.” Kreps says that Facebook’s Oversight Board acts like a private firm without real accountability of its own and that its consequential decision making over Facebook’s policies require additional independent oversight.

Kreps says: 

“While the Oversight Board is independent, Facebook has selected its members, which means that what we have seen is that the public marketplace of ideas has been outsourced to a private firm. And that firm is reliant on dollars of other private firms that advertise on the platform. By contrast, the Supreme Court also weighs in on the country’s free speech issues but is appointed by an individual who is accountable to different branches of government and the prospect of re-election.

“So, it raises the question of who is guarding Facebook’s guardians on something as consequential as whether national, democratically-elected figures can have a platform. Right now, the balance of power between public-private oversight of these fundamental questions of free speech tilts too heavily toward one or two private firms, maybe not for this particular decision but for longer-term healthy functioning of our democratic institutions.

“Congress has begun to reassert its oversight role, but it might be time to revisit suggestions about an independent government agency that would provide oversight of social media content, privacy, and misinformation – problems that are here to stay.” 

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