Facebook’s “independent” panel of experts has passed the Donald Trump “football” right back to Facebook  and few are happy with the result.
Republicans are outraged. Democrats are unsatisfied. Facebook’s sceptics are more sceptical than ever, and the company itself is back where it started.
Having set up the board of outside experts to adjudicate tough moderation decisions, it now has to make the toughest call itself: whether the former US president should be allowed back on the platform.
Facebook banned Trump earlier this year after deeming two of his posts had helped incite the January 6 storming of the US Capitol.
Facebook bans people all the time for breaking its rules, but very rarely those who hold public office. 
Having suspended Trump, it then referred the question of whether it had made the right call to a panel of outside experts  the oversight board.
Last night, after months of consideration, the board released a 12,000-word judgement that ultimately extended the ban for another six months and left the door open to Trump returning to the platform.
Facebook would have hoped the ruling would have drawn a line under the matter of Trump’s suspension, but as soon as the board’s decision dropped, the pile-on began.
Republicans and Democrats unhappy  but for different reasons
For Facebook, it’s awkward timing. Both sides of US politics want to regulate the tech giant, though for entirely different reasons.
Republicans generally say Facebook’s attempts at moderation infringes “free speech”, while Democrats tend to argue the tech giant’s lack of moderation is allowing the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
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Unsurprisingly, Republicans were quick to join the fray when the ruling was handed down.
Trump said social media companies who had banned him (which is most of them) “must pay a political price”.
Prominent Republican senator Ted Cruz called the decision “disgraceful”, adding that “oligarchs” had muzzled the former president.
Many Democrats expressed relief that Trump would not be back on Facebook anytime soon, but were quick to call for government regulation.
One example of this was Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat from New Jersey, who tweeted: “Facebook is amplifying and promoting disinformation and misinformation, and the structure and rules governing its oversight board generally seem to ignore this disturbing reality.”
He added that “real accountability will only come with legislative action”.
Legislative action is precisely what Facebook is trying to avoid. Along with other tech giants Google and Twitter, it’s been the focus of government hearings. 
The Federal Trade Commission, an independent agency of the US government, and a group of 48 attorneys general, recently filed landmark legal actions against Facebook alleging it has been acting as an illegal monopoly for years.
There’s no sign this scrutiny is about to slacken.
Asked about the board’s decision, a White House spokeswoman said “more needs to be done” and President Joe Biden “supports better privacy protections and a robust anti-trust program”.
“His view is that there’s more that needs to be done to ensure that this type of misinformation, disinformation, damaging, sometimes life-threatening information, is not going out to the American public,” the spokeswoman said.
Sceptics of the oversight board more sceptical than ever
Facebook set up the oversight board as an independent body that would make binding decisions on a small number of the most thorny moderation and content problems thrown up by the social media platform.
The idea was to have more transparency and accountability, which was meant to instill more confidence in the corporation’s ability to moderate its own platform.
Instead of these decisions being made by Mark Zuckerberg and a few other executives behind closed doors, they would be debated by a panel of outside experts who would publish their reasoning for all to see.
Announced in 2019, the board started taking cases in October 2020.
Police used tear gas against Trump supporters outside the Capitol Building on January 6.(Getty: Lev Radin
For critics of Facebook, the idea that a brains trust of experts will solve the problems of a platform that deploys secret, hidden algorithms to prioritise user engagement and advertising dollars, is laughable.
They say the board is simply a giant distraction.
Criticism has focused on whether the board can be independent when it’s mostly funded by Facebook (though the money itself is in an independent trust).
On top of this, the board has a narrow remit: it only reviews whether “decisions were made in accordance with Facebook’sstated values and policies”, and not what those values or policies should be.
If it decides that Facebook should change its policies, it can only make recommendations about how to do that.
Critics such as Free Press, a non-profit that wants to limit the power of big tech companies, say the board works as a smokescreen for Facebook and does not provide any genuinely independent oversight.
“The oversight board is little more than  a PR exercise,” said Jessica J Gonzalez, the organisation’s CEO.
“There’s little it can do to disrupt a business model that with or without Trump will continue to earn revenues by engaging people in hate and disinformation.”
The board asked Facebook 46 questions before coming to its decision.
Facebook declined to answer seven of the questions.
These included important, sensitive questions on how Facebook’s algorithm works, including “how Facebook’s news feed and other features impacted the visibility of Mr Trump’s content [and] whether Facebook has researched, or plans to research, those design decisions in relation to the events of January 6, 2021”.
The oversight board resents being in this situation
The 20-member board, which includes a former prime minister of Denmark, a Yemeni Nobel Peace laureate, and a slew of law professors, appeared to have not appreciated being asked to do Facebook’s dirty work.
In its decision, the board wrote: “In applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities.
“The board declines Facebooks request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty,” it wrote.
Basically, the board said Facebook was correct to suspend the Trump account for its posts on January 6, though it had done so by inventing a penalty that wasnt part of its policiesan “indefinite” suspension.
It told Facebook to go away and get its own rules straight and then decide whether to restore Trump, suspend him for a definite period or ban his account.
“Our sole purpose is to hold Facebook accountable,” board co-chair and Stanford law professor Michael McConnell told US media after the release of the ruling.
Board co-chair and former Denmark prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said Facebook shunned its responsibility”.
“They have to follow their own rules.
Facebook has to make a decision it hoped to avoid
That leaves Facebook, which finds itself holding the “football” and having to make a decision that  whether it means banning Trump or allowing him back  will alienate many and further the cause for regulation.
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The board has given Facebook six months to make a decision.
Facebook could send the decision back to the board, but that would risk making a circus of an oversight process that’s supposed to foster trust and confidence.
In a brief statement, Facebook has acknowledged the ruling and said that it would “consider the boards decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate”.
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