That’s how some of the board’s members see it as well.
“Practically the only entities that I trust less than the companies would be the government,” Mr. McConnell said.
To others, the idea of global corporations becoming de facto governments is dystopian — and the board’s promise reflects low expectations for democratic governance. “No board, whether corporate or ‘independent,’ can or should replace a parliament,” said Marietje Schaake, a Dutch politician who is a member of the “real” board. “Both the storming of the Capitol and social media companies’ panicked reactions have laid bare the depth of unchecked power social media companies hold over the public debate and public safety. The balancing and weighing of rights and interests belongs with democratically legitimate decision makers. There must be accountability beyond self-regulation.”
Mr. Clegg, a former British political leader who is now a top Zuckerberg deputy, acknowledged the criticism, but said he did not see an alternative right now.
“Everybody is making a reasonable point when they say, ‘I’m uneasy about this display of private corporate power over the public realm.’ It strikes at the rawest of raw nerves,” he said. But, he said, the company can’t wait for democracy to catch up and institute laws and norms around Facebook’s behavior.
“Those norms don’t exist, and in the meantime we can’t duck making decisions in real time,” he said.
Executives at other platforms remain skeptical, and show no sign of jumping aboard. And the board will have to weather American domestic politics, with pressure from an anti-corporate left and a populist right embodied by Fox News’s Tucker Carlson (“an extraordinarily articulate polemicist,” Mr. Clegg said). And Mr. Clegg said he hoped the board would find a way to have its five American members directly involved in this ruling through “some bespoke arrangement so they can provide particular input and insight into this decision.” But there’s no clear mechanism for favoring Americans, and the connections between the board and real-world politics are already getting complicated. One prominent member, the Stanford law professor Pam Karlan, has recused herself to help with the Biden transition, an Oversight Board official said.
The board’s decision in the Trump case — due before the end of April — has obvious implications here in the United States, but it could also set the company’s policy in other big democracies with leaders of the same new right-wing populist ilk, like Brazil, India and the Philippines. For them, too, Facebook is a major source of power, and they’re now eying Palo Alto warily. The Trump ban is “a dangerous precedent,” an official in India’s ruling party tweeted. In Brazil, as in the United States, conservatives have begun shifting their followers to Telegram, a messaging service.