When Mr. Zuckerberg first pitched the concept of a “Fb Supreme Courtroom” a number of years in the past, he promoted it as a strategy to make the corporate’s governance extra democratic, by forming an impartial physique of subject material specialists and giving them the ability to listen to appeals from customers.
“I believe in any sort of good-functioning democratic system, there must be a strategy to attraction,” Mr. Zuckerberg instructed Ezra Klein in a 2018 Vox podcast.
The oversight board additionally served one other goal. For years, Mr. Zuckerberg had been known as in as Fb’s coverage decide of final resort. (In 2018, for instance, he received personally concerned within the determination to bar Alex Jones, the Infowars conspiracy theorist.) However high-profile moderation selections had been typically unpopular, and the blowback was typically fierce. If it labored, the oversight board would take accountability for making the platform’s most contentious content material selections, whereas shielding Mr. Zuckerberg and his coverage crew from criticism.
It’s exhausting to think about a dispute Mr. Zuckerberg could be extra desperate to keep away from than the one about Mr. Trump. The previous president rode Fb to the White Home in 2016, then tormented the corporate by repeatedly skirting its guidelines and daring executives to punish him for it. After they lastly did, Republicans raged at Mr. Zuckerberg and his lieutenants, accusing them of politically motivated censorship.
Fb confronted loads of strain within the different route, too — each from Democrats and civil rights teams and from staff, a lot of whom noticed Mr. Trump’s presence on Fb as essentially incompatible with their aim of lowering dangerous misinformation and hate speech. It doesn’t matter what Mr. Zuckerberg and his crew determined, they had been certain to inflame the web speech wars and make extra enemies.
Earlier than the choice on Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg and different Fb executives did every little thing they may to persuade a skeptical public that the oversight board would have actual tooth. They funded the group by way of a legally impartial belief, stuffed it with hyper-credentialed specialists and pledged to abide by its rulings.
However for all its claims of legitimacy, the oversight board has all the time had a Potemkin high quality to it. Its leaders had been chosen by Fb, and its members are (handsomely) paid out of the corporate’s pockets. Its mandate is restricted, and none of its rulings are binding, in any significant sense of that phrase. If Mr. Zuckerberg determined tomorrow to disregard the board’s recommendation and reinstate Mr. Trump’s accounts, nothing — no act of Congress, no judicial writ, no indignant letter from Fb shareholders — may cease him.