In the middle of September, Facebook published a charter, in which it announced creation of an independent Facebook Oversight Board. Its decisions shall override Mark Zuckerberg, the website creator. He said that “the board’s decision will be binding, even if I or anyone at Facebook disagrees with it.” Earlier, Zuckerbeg compared the board with the Supreme Court. The concept dates back to 2018, but now finally after months of consultations, it comes to life.
The Oversight Board is meant to serve primarily as appeal body accessible for the users. In the case of a disagreement with moderators’ decision, there will be a possibility to appeal to the upper instance. It applies especially to the classification of content which has been being deleted as “violating community standards”, but for some reasons they may be appropriate despite addressing a controversial topic – for example for their informational value.
Eventually, the Board is going to consist of forty members on three-year terms, coming from “diverse array of backgrounds”. It shall start functioning with eleven members, the required minimum, in the beginning of 2020. To ensure its independence, Facebook plans to create a special trust, separated from its finances, to remunerate the members. However, it sparks some doubts about its real independence. The Board could also employ people for its functioning.
The first members will be chosen by Facebook itself. In cooperation with them, next members will be appointed up to nominate all forty of them. This should be the way to provide its diversity and, at the same time, lack of controversial members. There is a threat, that the Board will serve as a shield for controversial Facebook actions. Till now, all responsibility was attributed directly to Zuckerberg and his Board of Directors. The presence of the Oversight Board will take the pressure off the billionaire – decisions of an objective and independent body will be more difficult to question or criticize. Furthermore, because of the theoretical diversity, it will be more difficult to accuse them of being biased. The Oversight Board can also serve as a contact point for institutions investigating privacy violations. The Board of Directors is more susceptible to follow the profit, even for the price of users’ rights.
Zuckerberg wrote: “The board will be an advocate for our community – supporting people’s right to free expression, and making sure we fulfill our responsibility to keep people safe. As an independent organization, we hope it gives people confidence that their views will be heard, and that Facebook doesn’t have the ultimate power over their expression. Just as our Board of Directors keeps Facebook accountable to our shareholders, we believe the Oversight Board can do the same for our community.”