Facebook’s Oversight Board has opted to uphold the suspension on former President Donald Trump, at least temporarily. That begs the question: Who is on Facebook’s Oversight Board?
The board is made up of professors, politicians, think tank leaders, journalists, human rights activists, and others, from around the world, many of them vocal Trump critics. Many of the board members have been harshly critical of Trump’s policies and leadership in the past. Politico noted, “The board has no shortage of vocal Trump critics — some who have even suggested he should be imprisoned over his role in the storming of the Capitol or that he’s a bigot and a racist. But their views on free speech online are far more complex.”
One called Trump a “fascist.” Another said the world should build a wall around Trump. A third said Trump should be in prison. A fourth criticized Trump for ignoring people’s suffering due to climate change. A fifth called Trump “a liar, a racist, a bigot.” A sixth called him “a serial liar, a sexual predator … a white nationalist, a plutocrat and a professional con artist” and so on. Although some don’t have obvious anti-Trump statements, it was hard to find any positive Trump statements made by anyone on the board. One board member is a former George W. Bush judicial appointee and another is part of a Libertarian think tank that has been critical of Trump on some issues.
A statement from the board on its website says, “Social media platforms allow people around the world to connect. While this creates many opportunities to unite, it also allows us to see things that divide. As outside experts and civic leaders, we embrace our responsibility to answer some of the most difficult questions around freedom of expression online: what to take down, what to leave up, and why.”
The board adds: “While we come from different backgrounds and cultures and have different opinions and beliefs, this diversity lies at the core of this important endeavor. We are committed to making principled, independent decisions that are binding on Facebook about important pieces of content and by issuing advisory opinions on Facebook’s content policies.” According to CNN, the board is funded by Facebook but is supposed to be an independent review. The board found that Facebook was right to suspend Trump after the January 6 Capitol riots but questioned an indefinite suspension and whether that followed how Facebook treated others. Thus, the board recommended Facebook review the suspension.
Trump wrote on his website on May 5, “What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country. Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth, but the truth will come out anyway, bigger and stronger than ever before. The People of our Country will not stand for it! These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our Electoral Process.”
Here are the members of Facebook’s Oversight Board:
John Samples, United States
John Samples is vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute. “He founded and now directs Cato’s Center for Representative Government, which studies freedom of speech, the First Amendment and other aspects of American political institutions,” his bio says.
Samples appeared on a show called “Trump’s Assault on America’s Institutions.” The blurb touting it says, “John Samples joins us to discuss how the Trump presidency is challenging America’s institutions. Political institutions in America are designed to stop someone like a populist or a demagogue; someone not fit for presidency. We discuss how America’s institutions have fared thus far, with a president that refuses to follow the norms, and if we should expect more celebrity presidents.”
An article on the Cato Institute website says, “Cato and Reason writers such as Alex Nowrasteh and Shikha Dalmia have been among the toughest and most prominent critics of Trump’s attacks on immigration. Others at both organizations have been harshly critical of the administration on trade, government spending, civil liberties, executive power (Gene Healy, Cato’s leading expert on this subject, has argued that Trump should be impeached), health care reform, and a good many other issues.”
The Cato Institute was founded by the Koch brothers. According to Politico, “Samples defended Facebook’s decision not to fact-check ads by Trump and other politicians. And he’s warned against government regulation around online speech.”
Tawakkol Karman, Yemen
Karman is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. According to her bio, “Tawakkol Karman is a journalist, civil rights activist and Nobel laureate. The first Arab woman to win a Nobel prize, she has been recognized for her work building a culture of non-violence in the Middle East and once called ‘The Mother of the Revolution.’ As a journalist and activist in Yemen working under severe restrictions, she organized events and wrote on issues related to governance and injustice, corruption, extremism, terrorism, women’s rights, girls’ rights, early marriage, malnutrition, illiteracy, poverty and religious reforms.”
She has tweeted negative rhetoric against Trump, writing on January 7, 2021, “#Trump spared no effort to topple #US democracy and has gone too far in plunging the country into chaos. People like him should be in prison, and not as president of the world’s most powerful country.” Egypt Today reported that she previously called Hillary Clinton her “idol” and met with her.
She tweeted. “#Trump spared no effort to topple #US democracy and has gone too far in plunging the country into chaos.”
“People like him should be in prison, and not as president of the world’s most powerful country,” she added.
Nicolas Suzor, Australia
Suzer is a Professor, School of Law at Queensland University of Technology. His bio says, “Nicolas Suzor is a Professor at the Law School at Queensland University of Technology, where he helps lead QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre. He is also a Chief Investigator of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society. His research examines the governance of the internet and social networks, the regulation of automated systems, digital copyright, and knowledge commons. He is the author of the 2019 book ‘Lawless: the secret rules that govern our digital lives.'”
He once shared an article headlined, “Teen Vogue vs Trump; American Vogue vs Hitler” and wrote “I love this!” But Suzor once said, “We’ve seen social media platforms heavily criticized for interfering in political processes or even thinking about interfering in political processes … there’s no real precedent for what these firms should do, and they are all trying to work it out as they go along,”
He said in a tweet, “Should Twitter ban Trump? Surprisingly, I say ‘it’s complicated.”
Emi Palmor, Israel
Palmor is an Advocate and Lecturer, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Israel. According to her bio, “Palmor was born in Jerusalem and raised in Belgium, Norway and Argentina. She studied law at the Hebrew University, becoming a member of the Israeli Bar in 1991. She worked as a civil servant at the Israeli Ministry of Justice, initially as a prosecutor at the Supreme Court department of the State Attorney’s office, and then as Director of the Department of Pardons. Between 2014 and 2019 Palmor served as Director General of the Ministry of Justice, developing innovative employment diversity programs, advancing access to justice via digital services and platforms, and working towards the betterment and reduction of regulation.”
The Association of Progressive Communication published an article that read, “Palestinian civil society organizations condemn the selection of Emi Palmor, the former General Director of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, to Facebook’s Oversight Board and raises the alarm about the impact that her role will play in further shrinking the space for freedom of expression online and the protection of human rights.” They wrote, “Under Emi Palmor’s direction, the Israeli Ministry of Justice petitioned Facebook to censor legitimate speech of human rights defenders and journalists because it was deemed politically undesirable.”
András Sajó, Hungary
He is an University Professor, Central European University. His bio reads, “Sajo is a former Judge and Vice-President at the European Court of Human Rights, a University Professor and Founding Dean of Legal Studies at the Central European University, and a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He served as legal advisor to the first freely elected President of Hungary and has published extensively in the area of comparative constitutional law. He also participated as an advisor in drafting the Ukrainian, Georgian, and South African (interim) constitutions.”
Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark
She is the former Prime Minister, Denmark. Her bio reads, “Thorning-Schmidt is the former Prime Minister of Denmark, a position she held from 2011 to 2015. She also served as leader of the opposition and party leader in the Danish Parliament and as a member of European Parliament. Following her time in public office, she served as the Chief Executive of Save the Children, helping improve conditions and bring awareness to the plight of children in some of the most difficult and challenging places in the world. As part of this role, Thorning-Schmidt worked to highlight the humanitarian crises in Yemen and Syria, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar.”
She criticized Trump for “ignoring the suffering of so many people” by not mentioning climate change in a speech.
She has criticized Trump on Twitter, writing, “So the POTUS has cancelled his visit to Denmark because there was no interest in discussing selling Greenland @BBCRadio4. Is this some sort of joke? Deeply insulting to the people of Greenland and Denmark.” She once took a selfie with Barack Obama and David Cameron.
Ronaldo Lemos, Brazil
He is a Professor, Rio de Janeiro State University’s Law School. His bio reads, “Lemos is a lawyer specializing in technology, intellectual property, media and public policy. He is a partner at PNM Advogados, a leading law firm in Brazil, and has twenty years of experience in the private and public sectors. Dr. Lemos was a Visiting Scholar at Oxford, Princeton, the MIT Media Lab and a Visiting Professor at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He co-created Brazil’s Internet Bill of Rights Law (2014) and Brazil’s National IoT Plan (2018) and served on the Boards of the Mozilla Foundation, Access Now and other non-profit organizations. Previously, Dr. Lemos was Vice-President of the Social Communication Council in the National Congress in Brazil. Dr. Lemos writes weekly about law and technology for Folha de S. Paulo, one of Brazil’s most widely read newspapers.”
According to an article on Princeton’s website, “Lemos was one of the creators of the Marco Civil da Internet, a law enacted in 2014 regulating the internet in Brazil, protecting civil rights, privacy and net neutrality.” He wrote an article bashing QAnon that says Trump used language associated with the conspiracy theory.
He told Forbes, “We cannot fight fake news by amending or changing free speech related treaties. To fight fake news, I think it is more helpful to think about them as professional disinformation campaigns — that are sometimes very well funded! – and to focus on the properties and dynamics in the technologies employed by these campaigns. That will be more productive than harming free speech.”
Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, Senegal & Ghana
She is Program Manager, Open Society Initiative for West Africa. Her web page reads, “Asare-Kyei is a human rights lawyer and development professional with extensive experience in strategy development, program design, grant management, research and stakeholder engagement in Southern, Western and Central Africa. Of Ghanaian and South African citizenship, she has a varied background in supporting and developing transformational social programs and advocacy strategies through the provision of technical advice and input into policy and programming of civil society organizations on issues like access to information, freedom of expression, human rights and substantive justice, especially as they relate to the inclusion, equality of opportunity and empowerment of vulnerable and under-represented groups such as women, children, persons with disabilities and LGBTIQs.”
Alan Rusbridger, United Kingdom
He’s the Principal, Lady Margaret Hall Oxford, United Kingdom. His bio reads, “Rusbridger is the Principal at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, Chair of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and former Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, from 1995 to 2015. His academic awards include recognition by universities such as Harvard, CUNY, Oslo, Lincoln, Coventry, Kingston and the Open University. In 2014 he was a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award in Stockholm – the so-called “alternative Nobel Prize.” The Guardian’s coverage of surveillance by western intelligence agencies was recognized with the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2014. Educated at Cambridge University, he has also written children’s books and a screenplay.”
He’s written an article explaining why the oversight board agreed with the Trump suspension, writing that the former President “should be free to speak his mind, and voters should be free to listen. But he was also a habitual liar who, by the end of his term, had edged into repudiating the very democracy that had elevated him.” Of the riots, he wrote, “his statements were laced with lies, along with praise for the mob who terrorised lawmakers.”
In 2020, he retweeted an official who said, “Donald Trump doesn’t run the US gov’t. He doesn’t manage anything. He doesn’t organize anyone. He doesn’t administer or supervise. He doesn’t read memos. He hates meetings. His White House is in perpetual chaos.” In January, he wrote an article harshly critical of Trump, saying, “Trump’s deliberate and repeated delegitimising of the best of journalism – “the New York Times is fake news” – had a transparent purpose. If he could persuade enough people that even the most respected journalists peddled lies there was a reasonable chance that voters might end up believing him.”
He tweeted, “Shame on ‘news’ channels who enabled Trump and his repeated assaults on truth.”
Suzanne Nossel, United States
She is Chief Executive Officer, PEN America. Her bio says, “Nossel is Chief Executive Officer at PEN America and author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All. Prior to joining PEN America, she served as the Chief Operating Officer of Human Rights Watch and as Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. She served in the Obama Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, leading US engagement in the UN and multilateral institutions on human rights issues, and in the Clinton Administration as Deputy to the US Ambassador for UN Management and Reform. Nossel coined the term “Smart Power,” which was the title of a 2004 article she published in Foreign Affairs Magazine and later became the theme of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure in office.”
In January, Nossel wrote in the New York Times, “Lawmakers are right to insist that Mr. Trump pay the highest price for fomenting a deadly assault on democracy; he should be convicted and banned from holding public office.” According to Politico, as a new member she was not going to participate in the deliberations over the Trump case.
Catalina Botero-Marino, Colombia
She is Chairholder, UNESCO Chair on Freedom of Expression, Universidad de Los Andes. Her bio says, “Botero-Marino is a lawyer and the Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair on Freedom of Expression at Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. She is a former dean of the Law School at the same university. From 2008 to 2014, she was the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the Organization of American States. She is an adjunct professor at the American University Washington College of Law’s Academy on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. She is also part of the group of experts of Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression and Information Project, a member of the Scientific Committee of the Iuris Dictio Journal’s from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, as well as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the International Journal of Constitutional Law of ICON-S.”
She has criticized Trump on Twitter, writing, “The use of sarin gas is an atrocity and AlAssad is an international criminal, but Trump’s only interest is Trump.” Students for Life of America has criticized her appointment because of its concern about social media censorship, writing, “She is also a member of the board of directors of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a pro-abortion group.”
Maina Kiai, Kenya
He is Director, Human Rights Watch Global Alliances and Partnerships, Kenya. His bio says, “Kiai is the former United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Assembly and Association and current Director of the Global Alliances and Partnerships at Human Rights Watch. He serves in his personal capacity. Previously, he was a founding co-director at InformAction, a Kenyan human rights NGO that advanced human rights through documentary film and community-based debate and mobilizing. He also served as the founding executive chair of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, an independent state body, and as the founding executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Kenya’s leading human rights NGO. Throughout his career, Kiai has served in leadership roles in prominent national and international human rights organizations, received many fellowships and published widely. He is the recipient of the George Kirkland Human Rights Award from AFL-CIO, the Freedom Award from Freedom House, the Leo Navas Award from UN Foundation of USA and the Public Servant Award from the Gay and Lesbians Coalition of Kenya, among other honors.”
According to PEN.org, Maina Kiai “implored U.S. lawmakers to ‘stop the ‘alarming’ trend of ‘undemocratic’ anti-protest bills designed to criminalize or impede the rights’ to free expression and assembly. Since Trump’s inauguration, lawmakers in 19 states have ‘introduced legislation restricting assembly rights by various degrees.'” Read some of his columns here.
In a podcast, he called Trump, the “jewel in the crown of the far right, fascist, xenophobic, right-wing groups that exist.”
Sudhir Krishnaswamy, India
He is Vice Chancellor and Professor of Law, National Law School of India University, India. His bio page says, “Krishnaswamy is Vice Chancellor and Professor of Law at the National Law School of India University and the Secretary and Treasurer of the Consortium of National Law Universities of India. Previously, he was the Director of the School of Policy and Governance and Professor of Law and Politics at Azim Premji University, as well as the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Visiting Professor of Indian Constitutional Law at Columbia Law School. He graduated with a BA LLB from the National Law School of India University and, as a Rhodes Scholar, read for a Bachelors of Civil Law and a Doctor of Philosophy (Law) from the University of Oxford.”
Julie Owono, Cameroon & France
She is Executive Director, Internet Sans Frontières, Cameroon & France. Her bio says, “Owono is an expert in digital rights and international technology law, and an advocate for Business and Human Rights principles in the technology industry. She is Executive Director of Internet Sans Frontières, an organization which defends digital rights and access to the internet. She is also a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, a Digital Civil Society Fellow at Stanford University, a member of UNESCO’s Ad Hoc Expert Group (AHEG) for the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, a Member of the Expert Committee on Digital Inclusion of the World Benchmarking Alliance, and a Civil Society member of the Global Network Initiative’s Board.”
She tweeted, quotes calling Trump “a liar, a racist, a bigot,” and wrote, “hahaha, I wish four years of Trump could go as fast!”
Katherine Chen, Taiwan
She is a Professor, National Chengchi University, Taiwan. Her bio says, “Chen holds a PhD from The University of Texas at Austin and is a Professor of Communication at National Chengchi University (NCCU), Taiwan. She is a former commissioner of the National Communications Commission of Taiwan, and has served as both the Associate Dean of the College of Communication and as Vice Chair of Chinese Communication Society. She also was in a Review Committee in Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology, advised the Ministry of Science and Technology, and served as an external reviewer for the Research Grants Council in Hong Kong. Chen has also been a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Asian Journal of Communication, and on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Communication Research and Practices. Professor Chen has received a number of research awards from the Ministry of Science and Technology and National Chengchi University. Her academic research has been published in journals such as Telecommunications Policy, Comunicar, Journalism Studies, New Media & Society, Public Relations Review, and the Chinese Journal of Communication. Her research interests include media content and its effects, social media in elections, as well as mobile communication and privacy.”
Endy Bayuni, Indonesia
He is Senior Editor and Board Member, The Jakarta Post, Indonesia. His web page says, “Bayuni is Senior Editor and Board Member at The Jakarta Post, and writes on national politics, international relations, political Islam and the media landscape. He has been a journalist for 37 years, which includes stints at Reuters and Agence France-Presse as their Indonesian correspondent early in his career. He is the executive director of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) which he helped found in 2012 and the recipient of several journalism fellowships, including the Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University in 2003/2004 and the Jefferson Fellowship at Hawaii University in 1999. Bayuni serves on the board of several non-governmental organizations, including the Partnership for Governance Reform Indonesia, the Nature Conservancy Indonesia, and on the Institute for Policy Analysis and Conflict. He received his bachelor degree in economics from Kingston University in Surrey, UK.”
He wrote after Trump won in 2016, “Authoritarian regimes and dictators around the world must feel vindicated by the just-concluded presidential race in the United States, the one-time champion of liberal democracy that had the habit of exporting if not imposing its political system and the accompanying values to the rest of the world.”
Evelyn Aswad, United States
She is a Professor and Chair, University of Oklahoma College of Law, United States of America. Her bio page says, “Aswad is a Professor of Law and the Herman G. Kaiser Chair in International Law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. She is also the Director of its Center for International Business & Human Rights. Her scholarship is focused on expression online. From 1999 to 2013, she served as an attorney in the U.S. Department of State’s Legal Bureau, most recently as the director of the Office of Human Rights and Refugees. During her time at the State Department she advised on various issues including freedom of expression online, the assessment of foreign and domestic laws and practices with regard to international human rights standards, issues of mass atrocities, global corporate responsibility standards, and U.S. engagement at the United Nations on human rights. She also earned several superior honor awards for her bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. Previously, Professor Aswad served as a law clerk to the Hon. Arthur J. Gajarsa at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and worked as a corporate lawyer at Arnold & Porter in Washington, DC. She received her JD, magna cum laude, from the Georgetown University Law Center and her B.S.F.S., summa cum laude, from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.”
She wrote an essay about fake news that also warned of overreaction through new laws.
Michael McConnell, United States
He is a Professor and Director of the Constitutional Law Center, Stanford Law School, United States of America. His web page says, “McConnell is the Richard and Frances Mallery Professor and Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, where he teaches a course on freedom of speech, press, and religion, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. From 2002 to 2009, he served as a Circuit Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. He was nominated by President George W. Bush, a Republican, and confirmed by a Democratic Senate by unanimous consent. McConnell has previously held chaired professorships at the University of Chicago and the University of Utah, and visiting professorships at Harvard and NYU. He has published widely in the fields of constitutional law and theory, especially church and state, equal protection, and separation of powers. He is co-editor of three books: ‘Religion and the Law’, ‘Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought’, and ‘The Constitution of the United States’. McConnell has argued fifteen cases in the United States Supreme Court, and served as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. and D.C. Circuit Chief Judge J. Skelly Wright. He has been Assistant General Counsel of the Office of Management & Budget, Assistant to the Solicitor General of the Department of Justice, and a member of the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board.”
According to Politico, McConnell said, “One’s views on politics are not the same as one’s views on the scope and limits on freedom of expression,” McConnell said at an event last May. “A commitment to civil liberties can transcend one’s politics.”
Jamal Greene, United States
He is a Professor, Columbia Law School, United States of America. His web page says, “Greene is the Dwight Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, where he has taught courses on constitutional law, comparative constitutional law, the law of the political process, the First Amendment, and American federal courts. His scholarship focuses on constitutional rights adjudication as well as the structure of legal and constitutional argument. Professor Greene is the author of numerous articles and book chapters and a frequent media commentator on constitutional law and the Supreme Court. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and a visiting scholar at the Knight First Amendment Institute. Prior to joining Columbia’s faculty, Professor Greene served as a law clerk to the Hon. Guido Calabresi on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for the Hon. John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
He wrote an article calling Trump a “Constitutional Failure” and “a serial liar, a sexual predator … a white nationalist, a plutocrat and a professional con artist.” He tweeted, “The transparency of Trump’s unfitness means, almost tautologically, that a big chunk of his supporters are conspiracy-minded.”
He told NPR of the Facebook Oversight Board, “I’m not going to prejudge it until we actually hear the case. I think it’s quite important to make sure that we have all the facts and are in a proper deliberative posture before we make those kinds of decisions. So, you know, we’ll work on it as quickly as we can and with as much principle as we can and see where it goes.”
Nighat Dad, Pakistan
She is the Founder, Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan. Her bio page says, ” Dad is a Pakistani lawyer and a founder of Digital Rights Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on cyber harassment, data protection and free speech online in Pakistan and South Asia. As a feminist and pioneer for women’s rights activism in Pakistan, Dad has raised awareness of Pakistani patriarchy and illuminated her own experience as a women engaged in digital rights activism. Her accomplishments include being named a Next Generation Leader by Time Magazine in 2015, the Dutch Human Rights Tulip Award in 2016, a TED Global Fellowship in 2017, and nomination as a Young Global Leader by World Economic Forum in 2018. Most recently, she was listed among 2019’s 21 Young Leaders from Asia by Asia Society.”
She tweeted, “The world needs to build a wall around you and Trump and never let you both come out. #BanTrump.”