Facebook announces oversight board members

New board will rule on freedom of expression issues and make policy recommendations to social media giant.

Facebook has announced the first 20 members of its oversight board, a new independent body responsible for content governance, moderation and enforcement.

The board will have the power to overturn decisions made by the company or its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, regarding content on Facebook and Instagram, and will also be able to make policy recommendations based on its case decisions.

“The board will review whether content is consistent with Facebook and Instagram’s policies and values, as well as a commitment to upholding freedom of expression within the framework of international norms of human rights,” said the oversight board website.

“We will make decisions based on these principles, and the impact on users and society, without regard to Facebook’s economic, political or reputational interests. Facebook must implement our decisions, unless implementation could violate the law.”

The oversight board will be headed by four co-chairs chosen directly by Facebook – US law professors Jamal Greene and Michael McConnell; Catalina Botero Marino, a former special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the Organization of American States; and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark.

The next 16 board members were selected by both Facebook and the four co-chairs, and there are plans to select 20 more over time. Although they were selected from around the world, participants currently lean towards the US and Europe, which account for 25% and 20% of members, respectively.

Other board members include former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger; Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, programme manager at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa; Nighat Dad, executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation; and Australian academic Nicolas Suzor.

Originally proposed by Zuckerberg in 2018, the oversight board is Facebook’s response to a series of high-profile moderation issues in recent years, including a failure to combat hate speech against Rohingya and other Muslims in Myanmar and disinformation being spread on its platform during elections.

According to the board’s bylaws, an oversight board trust has been set up “to facilitate the creation, funding, management and oversight of a structure that will permit and protect the operation of the board”. This trust has, in turn, set up the Oversight Board Limited Liability Corporation so it can contract members directly, rather than through Facebook.

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The bylaws said Facebook would fund the trust upfront for at least six years, which would amount to $130m and cannot be revoked, said the board’s website. “All of this is designed to protect our independent judgement and enable us to make decisions free from influence or interference,” it added.

But according to a blogpost by David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, a number of key questions remain, including “just how far the board is willing to go in taking decisions that undermine the company’s business interests, just how broad a scope it believes it has, just how independent from Facebook it is”.

Kaye added: “All that will need to be monitored as the process moves forward.”

Although Kaye, in the post, praised the commitment of board members – some of whom he knows personally – to human rights and the rule of law, he called into question the implications of letting Facebook come this far down the route of self-regulation.

“How did we get here, to this place where companies so dominate public speech, causing so much friction with governments and the public, and yet, as Chinmayi Arun describes so well, they must create their own mechanisms of self-regulation?” wrote Kaye. “Where is government oversight promoting and protecting democratic principles? Why should private companies be making, and then overseeing, the decisions that have such impact on public life?”

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