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Protocol | Policy

Facebook’s Oversight Board won’t save it from the Trump ban backlash

The Board's decision on whether to reinstate Trump could set a new precedent for Facebook. But does the average user care what the Board has to say?

Facebook’s Oversight Board won’t save it from the Trump ban backlash

A person holds a sign during a Free Speech Rally against tech companies, on Jan. 20 in California.

Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Two weeks after Facebook suspended former President Donald Trump's account indefinitely, Facebook answered a chorus of calls and referred the case to its newly created Oversight Board for review. Now, the board has 90 days to make a call as to whether Trump stays or goes permanently. The board's decision — and more specifically, how and why it arrives at that decision — could have consequences not only for other global leaders on Facebook, but for the future of the Board itself.

Facebook created its Oversight Board for such a time as this — a time when it would face a controversial content moderation decision and might need a gut check. Or a fall guy. There could be no decision more controversial than the one Facebook made on Jan. 7, when it decided to muzzle one of the most powerful people in the world with weeks remaining in his presidency. It stands to reason, then, that Facebook would tap in its newly anointed refs on the Oversight Board both to earnestly review the call and to put a little distance between Facebook and the decision.

It also stands to reason that the Oversight Board would oblige. It was designed to be Facebook's Supreme Court analog, taking up cases that can set new, important precedents for Facebook and issuing decisions on those cases. Like the actual Supreme Court, what matters now is not just what decision the board reaches regarding Trump's account, but how narrowly or broadly it rules. A broad decision that takes into account not just what Trump said on Facebook, but the offline consequences of his words, could mean tougher treatment of all global leaders with a record of exploiting Facebook to achieve violent ends. A narrow one could risk creating a global double standard, affirming fears that Facebook is more concerned with violence on its own home turf than in other countries.

"I actually think this will be the Oversight Board's Marbury v Madison moment," Stanford Law professor Nate Persily wrote on Twitter. "Meaning, even if they uphold the decision to suspend, the way they handle the case, decide on their jurisdiction, and consider the breadth of the issue presented will be important going forward."

But a broader question hangs over this entire experiment, and it is very much an experiment: Does the average Facebook user actually care what the Board has to say?

It's true that the Board's decisions will matter to Facebook, which means they will matter to its billions of users. The decisions it makes will be binding, according to bylaws agreed upon by Facebook, and will likely have domino effects on other content decisions down the line. But if there's a public relations aspect to all of this — that is, if Facebook is hoping to unload the burden of Trump's banishment and redirect some of the public backlash toward a third party — that effort seems doomed to fail.

Unlike the actual Supreme Court, the average American may very well have no idea that the Oversight Board exists. Even if they do, how many of them will take the time to understand the tedious process Facebook underwent to ensure the board is both bipartisan and independent? To the average Trump voter incensed about Facebook's decision to suspend Trump and so many other decisions before that, what is the Oversight Board, really, but an offshoot of the all-powerful tech giant they've believed to be shilling for Democrats all along?

That's what makes this moment so dicey for the Oversight Board. It's taking on one of its most consequential cases before it's even issued a single other decision. "On the one hand, it divests a huge amount of power from [Facebook] to give the Board authority over this. On the other hand, maybe the Board is too nascent to take on such an enormous question," Kate Klonick, an assistant professor at St. John's Law School, who has studied the Oversight Board extensively, tweeted Thursday. "The Board can establish its seriousness and jurisdiction/power over [Facebook]. That could be good for the Board, but it also means that it's very risky for establishing legitimacy [...] Not sending it also would have also been a damning message — that the Board's authority was limited and that [Facebook] didn't really intend to give it any hard questions."

Now, just months after it came into existence, the Board already faces an existential question: to err on the side of public safety or public perception. "Whatever they say will piss off 50-ish percent of Americans. Purely as game theory, I think they're best off reinstating. That shows independence [and] reassures American conservatives, who broadly pose a bigger threat to the Facebook Oversight Board than American liberals," tweeted Daphne Keller, who directs the program on platform regulation at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center.

Keller later added that ruling based on those incentives "would be a dereliction of duty, in terms of what they are actually supposed to do."

But of course, those incentives do exist. The Board may be new, but the choice it's now facing is not. It's a choice between public safety and self-preservation — a choice that will determine the future of dictators and strongmen around the world and, as we've recently seen, have very real implications for the people they govern. It's a choice Facebook has made again and again throughout its history — a choice it's now asking the board to make instead.

Protocol | Workplace

The pay gap persists for Black women

"The pay gap is a multifaceted problem and any time you have a complex problem, there's not a single solution that's going to solve it."

For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Photo: Christine/Unsplash

Last year's racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd led many tech companies to commit to promoting equity within their organizations, including working toward pay equity. But despite efforts, the wage gap for Black women still persists. For every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women are paid just 63 cents, according to the American Community Survey Census data.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day on Tuesday represents the estimated number of days into the year it would take for Black women to make what their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts made at the end of the previous year, according to the organization Equal Pay Today. And while the responsibility to fix the pay gap falls mostly on companies to rectify, some female employees have taken matters into their own hands and held companies to their asserted values by negotiating higher pay.

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Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.

pay

What comes to mind when you think of AI? In the past, it might have been the Turing test, a sci-fi character or IBM's Deep Blue-defeating chess champion Garry Kasparov. Today, instead of copying human intelligence, we're seeing immense progress made in using AI to unobtrusively simplify and enrich our own intelligence and experiences. Natural language processing, modern encrypted security solutions, advanced perception and imaging capabilities, next-generation data management and logistics, and automotive assistance are some of the many ways AI is quietly yet unmistakably driving some of the latest advancements inside our phones, PCs, cars and other crucial 21st century devices. And the combination of 5G and AI is enabling a world with distributed intelligence where AI processing is happening on devices and in the cloud.

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Protocol | Workplace

Tech company hybrid work policies are becoming more flexible, not less

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are already changing their hybrid policies to allow for more flexibility.

Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are all loosening up their strategies around hybrid work, allowing for more flexibility before even fully reopening their offices.

In the last week and a half, Twitter announced it's adopting an asynchronous-first approach, and both Asana and LinkedIn said they would increase the amount of time their employees can work remotely.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Power

Activision Blizzard scrambles to repair its toxic image

Blizzard President J. Allen Brack is the first executive to depart amid the sexual harassment crisis.

Activision Blizzard doesn't seem committed to lasting change.

Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Getty Images

As Activision Blizzard's workplace crisis rages on into its third week, the company is taking measures to try to calm the storm — to little avail. On Tuesday, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, who took the reins at the developer responsible for World of Warcraft back in 2018, resigned. He's to be replaced by executives Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, who will co-lead the studio in a power-sharing agreement some believe further solidifies CEO Bobby Kotick's control over the subsidiary.

Nowhere in Blizzard's statement about Brack's departure does it mention California's explosive sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit at the heart of the saga. The lawsuit, filed last month, resulted last week in a 500-person walkout at Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine. (Among the attendees was none other than Ybarra, the new studio co-head.)

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Nick Statt
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Protocol | Workplace

Alabama Amazon workers will likely get a second union vote

An NLRB judge said that Amazon "usurped" the NLRB by pushing for a mailbox to be installed in front of its facility, and also that the company violated laws that protect workers from monitoring of their behavior during union elections.

An NLRB judge ruled that Amazon has violated union election rules

Image: Amazon

Bessemer, Alabama warehouse workers will likely get a second union vote because of Amazon's efforts to have a USPS ballot box installed just outside of the Bessemer warehouse facility during the mail-in vote, as well as other violations of union vote rules, according to an NLRB ruling published Tuesday morning.

While union organizers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, lost the first vote by more than a 2:1 margin, a second election will be scheduled and held unless Amazon successfully appeals the ruling. Though Amazon is the country's second-largest private employer, no unionization effort at the company has ever been successful.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

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