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A red-baiter, an anti-Trumper & a libertarian walk into a bar: Facebook angers conservatives & liberals alike with oversight picks

A red-baiter, an anti-Trumper & a libertarian walk into a bar: Facebook angers conservatives & liberals alike with oversight picks

Facebook has unveiled its 20-person Oversight Board, a supposedly independent body able to reverse the platform’s own content moderation decisions. The names have raised eyebrows all over the political spectrum.

The social media behemoth revealed its ‘supreme court’ roster on Wednesday, showing off a pedigreed list of legal scholars, human rights advocates, and journalists from around the globe. While the Oversight Board idea was initially presented to the Facebook community back in 2018, as a way for aggrieved users to appeal content take-downs to an independent panel, bylaws unveiled in January suggested its vaunted independence would be nominal at best.

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Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, one of the board’s co-chairs, attempted to allay concerns the body would act as a mere rubber stamp for Facebook’s decisions.

“It will be very embarrassing to Facebook if they don’t live up to their end of this,” she said on a call with reporters on Wednesday, while co-chair Michael McConnell, a Stanford Law professor, vowed the board’s ambition was for “the same rules [to] apply to people of left, right, and center.”

Complaints began pouring in almost immediately – both from conservatives concerned they were underrepresented and from liberals aghast at the presence of “right-wingers” on the board.

Conservative gadfly Mike Cernovich immediately smelled a rat – or rather, a billionaire currency speculator – seizing on “human rights advocate” Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei as proof of George Soros’ hand in the selection process, after demanding his followers “Look at this list of people” and tell him “how many conservatives are on it?”

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Those on the political right have long complained about censorship from Facebook, and many had initially hoped Facebook’s “Supreme Court” would amount to something other than a Ministry of Truth for neoliberal centrists.

However, the “Orange Man Bad” contingent did appear to be overrepresented – “digital rights advocate” Nighat Dad, Queensland University of Technology law professor Nicolas Suzor, and Columbia Law professor Jamal Greene were among those who had proudly proclaimed their loathing of US President Donald Trump on Twitter.

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One name that came in for spirited mockery was Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, who infamously took the witness stand at Trump’s impeachment hearings to remind those assembled that the US needs a strong Ukraine “so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here.” Another gem was her rant about how Trump naming his son Barron was somehow proof of his monarchist tendencies.

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Liberals were miffed by the selections as well, however. A Media Matters editor accused Facebook of “caving to every single bad faith criticism from the right” in its decision to appoint John Samples, of the libertarian Cato Institute, to the board. Others merely sniffed that it lacked qualified “disinformation researchers.”

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Other names infuriated different groups. The selection of former Israeli Justice Ministry director Emi Palmor was slammed by pro-Palestinian users – “is that why a load of Palestinian journalists had their accounts closed yesterday?” one mused – and the inclusion of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Arab Spring activist Tawakkol Karman was eviscerated by her fellow Yemenis.

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Facebook funds the board to the tune of $130 million, which is supposed to cover the next six years. Its control of both the power of the purse and the selection process – it chose the first 20 board members and will play a role in picking the next 20 – may mean the Oversight Board is unlikely to ever be independent of its benefactor, but at least users will have more than one target for their resentment going forward.

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A red-baiter, an anti-Trumper & a libertarian walk into a bar: Facebook angers conservatives & liberals alike with oversight picks

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