Facebook Now Has a Content Oversight Board

Facebook now has a 20-member, totally independent oversight board

Facebook's new independent Oversight Board could change some of the content you do and don't see on the social media platform.

By LPS.1 (Own work) [ CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Facebook, the social media platform you hate-use 24/7, is getting a significant injection of oversight in a way few independent companies, tech or otherwise, ever have. On Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the first 20 members of its Oversight Board, a group tasked with making difficult content decisions that previously ended up at Zuckerberg's feet.

Why does Facebook need oversight? Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is an almost unqualified American success story. He is not, however, a student of human nature. He built Facebook up to a world-beating social media giant through grit, determination and delivered vast and powerful information sharing tools to billions with surprisingly little control over what kind of information they might share. Worse yet, he never really understood the power of his own creation and how information on a platform like his could be weaponized. See the 2016 Presidential election for more details.

Who are these people? It's actually 16 new members joining the original, four co-chairs whom Facebook selected earlier with the help of recruiters. The co-chairs and new members (selected by the co-chairs) include:

  • Former federal judge Michael McConnell
  • Evelyn Aswad, Professor and Director of the Center for International Business and Human rights at the University of Oklahoma Law
  • Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt
  • Emi Palmor, Former Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Justice
  • Nicolas Suzor, Professor at the Queensland University of Technology law School

What Can They Do: The board will have the power to overturn disputed Facebook and Instagram content decisions. Imagine misleading posts or deep fake videos that Facebook might have originally left alone as protected free speech. The board can, Zuckerberg wrote in his Facebook post, "overturn decisions we've made on content as long as they comply with local laws. Its decisions will be final—regardless of whether I or anyone else at the company agrees with them."

Zuckerberg doesn't have to like them: Owing to its independence, board members can't be removed by Facebook.

The value of independence: It's very likely that people will disagree with some Oversight Board decisions, but, theoretically, no one will be able to say that Facebook is trying to protect itself, its advertising business, or currying favor with one political party or another (or one candidate or another) by leaving or pulling down certain kinds of disputed content. The group will publish its findings and decisions on a Facebook's dedicated Oversight Board website.

Bottom line: Once the Oversight Board begins its work, Facebook may move more swiftly to remove objectionable content and reinstate ones that were removed in error. This could be the start of a more accountable Facebook.

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