If the Oversight Board is Facebook’s version of the powerful United States Supreme Court (as Mark Zuckerberg called it), then Australian academic Nicolas Suzor has the honour of being a Supreme Court judge.
He is one of 20 people who sit on the board, which was instituted last year and had its first global moment in the spotlight last week when it upheld Facebook’s ban on former US President Donald Trump, who was suspended from the platform for inciting attacks on the Capitol in January.
“No one’s really tried this before”: Law professor Nicolas Suzor, a member of Facebook’s 20-person Oversight Board.Credit:Attila Csaszar
Facebook’s initial decision was momentous; to remove the man who was then president and arguably the world’s most famous living person, and who had used social media to his advantage like no other political leader.
It was also a milestone in how social media companies have transformed over the decade, from actively hands-off platforms that wave through anything to more judicious publishers who have conceded they have a role to play in minimising harmful content and its effects.
“It’s been really weird to see how much the world has changed since that time around 2008, 2009,” Suzor says. “It was really quite a weird suggestion that private companies would owe any sort of responsibility to their users to act fairly or make good rules.”
A professor at Queensland University of Technology’s law school and its digital media research centre, Suzor has studied tech regulation for 15 years. His roles involved work with several tech advocacy groups – he says he previously called himself an “activist” – and when Zuckerberg first floated the idea of an Oversight Board, he “tagged along to try to get involved”.
It was a long recruitment process, culminating in a final interview with former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is the board’s co-chair. The board convened just as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world, dashing members’ plans to meet each other in person.
Only five board members are US-based; there are representatives from India, Colombia, Israel, Brazil, Kenya, Yemen and other countries. Suzor is the lone Australian.