Facebook recently released a charter with the details on the structure of the Oversight Board and its relationship to Facebook. While the eventual goal is for the board to review cases by Facebook and its users regarding content decisions, Facebook said in a blog post that it will begin operations by hearing Facebook-initiated cases. The system for users to initiate appeals to the board will be made available over the first half of 2020.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg first wrote about creating an independent body for users to appeal content decisions and his vision for how content should be governed on Facebook. To ensure the board’s independence from Facebook, the company established an independent trust which will offer additional accountability checks and provide the infrastructure to support and compensate the board. A diverse and qualified group of 40 board members will be selected to serve three-year terms.
It has been agreed upon that Facebook alone should not name the entire board. Instead, Facebook will pick a small group of initial members, who will then help with the selection of additional members. Thereafter, the board itself will take the lead in selecting all future members. The trust will then formally appoint members. Facebook added that the Oversight Board, the trust and Facebook will have separate roles and responsibilities, all of which will work to ensure that the board is set up for success.
According to Facebook’s charter, the board is expected, in general, to defer to past decisions. This reflects the feedback received during the public consultation period. The board can also request that its decision be applied to other instances or reproductions of the same content on Facebook. In such cases, Facebook will do so, to the extent technically and operationally feasible, the blog post said.
Facebook will promptly implement the board’s content decisions, which are binding. Additionally, the board may issue policy recommendations to Facebook, as part of its overall judgment on each individual case. This is how it was envisioned that the board’s decisions will have lasting influence over Facebook’s policies, procedures and practices.
The charter also identified guidelines on how it will prioritise the most significant and difficult cases for Facebook’s referrals to the board. It currently focuses on indicators that demonstrate cases that are both significant and difficult.
The company’s charter defined significant as the content involving real-world impact. The content in question should involve issues that are severe, large-scale and important for public discourse. Factors include severity, scale and public discourse. More specifically, the content will either threaten someone else’s voice, safety, privacy or dignity; affect a large number of people and/or illustrates a larger trend on Facebook; or spurs significant public debate and/or important political and social discourse.
Meanwhile, difficulty is defined by the content raising questions about current policy or its enforcement. Strong arguments could be made for either removing or leaving up the content, and the factors include disputed, uncertain and competing. The charter elaborated that this concerns disagreements about Facebook’s decision on the content and/or the underlying policy or policies; uncertainty about the correct decision according to Facebook’s policy; and tension between equally important values.
Brent Harris, director of governance and global affairs, said in the blog post that while this is an important milestone, there is much more work Facebook still needs to do. He added that over the next few months, Facebook will continue testing its assumptions and ensuring the board’s operational readiness.
“In addition, we will focus on sourcing and selecting of board members, finalising the bylaws that will complement the charter, and working toward having the board deliberate on its first cases early in 2020. We are committed to consulting outside experts at every step, and we look forward to providing more updates on our progress,” Harris said.
Meanwhile, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP, global affairs and communications, said: “The content policies we write and the decisions we make every day matter to people. That’s why we always have to strive to keep getting better. The Oversight Board will make Facebook more accountable and improve our decision-making. This charter is a critical step towards what we hope will become a model for our industry.”
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