New board to oversee Facebook, Instagram content

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Nick Clegg, Facebook VP of global affairs and communications.
Nick Clegg, Facebook VP of global affairs and communications.

Social media giant Facebook has announced its first oversight board members, saying this group of eminent persons represents a new model of content-moderation for Facebook and Instagram.

The board has been established in response to criticism levelled against the social media doyen for not being transparent enough on decisions regarding what content is or isn't banned on its platforms.

Despite having community standards to moderate content, Facebook has previously been accused of being inconsistent in the application of its own rules.

The new oversight board has been armed with an independent $130 million war chest to fund its operations.

The company says the board will take final and binding decisions on whether specific content should be allowed or removed from Facebook and Instagram.

Announcing the board via the firm’s blog, Nick Clegg, VP of global affairs and communications, says: “We have created and empowered a new group to exercise independent judgement over some of the most difficult and significant content decisions.

“In doing so, we’ve sought input from both critics and supporters of Facebook, hosting a global consultation process of workshops and roundtables with more than 650 people in 88 different countries.”

Clegg says the consultations resulted in the release of a final charter, which establishes the board’s structure, scope and authority; creation of the Oversight Board Trust to safeguard the board’s ability to make independent decisions and recommendations; as well as publication of the board’s bylaws, which outline its operational procedures.

Further, he says, Facebook hired the board’s director, who will lead the board’s administration and staff, as well as the creation of a recommendations portal, through which the board can accept nominations and applications from anyone interested in serving as a member.

The initial 20 board members announced include Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark; Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian; and Tawakkol Karman, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who promoted non-violent change in Yemen during the Arab Spring.

Three Africans have also been appointed to the board: Julie Owono, a digital rights advocate and executive director of Internet Sans Frontières from Cameroon; Maina Kiai, a human rights activist and director of Human Rights Watch’s global alliances and partnerships programme from Kenya; and Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, a human rights lawyer and programme manager at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa from Senegal, Ghana and South Africa.

The board will eventually grow to 40 people.

“The members announced today [Wednesday] reflect a wide range of views and experiences. They have lived in over 27 countries, speak at least 29 languages and are all committed to the mission of the oversight board. We expect them to make some decisions that we, at Facebook, will not always agree with – but that’s the point: they are truly autonomous in their exercise of independent judgment,” Clegg wrote on the blog.

“We also expect that the board’s membership itself will face criticism. But its long-term success depends on it having members who bring different perspectives and expertise to bear.”

Facebook has committed to abide by the decisions of the oversight board.

Clegg says: “For our part, Facebook will implement the board’s decisions unless doing so could violate the law, and will respond constructively and in good faith to policy guidance put forth by the board.”

According to Clegg, the board won’t be able to hear every case Facebook or the public might want it to hear, “but we look forward to working with the board to ensure its scope grows over time. As it does, we know the board will play an increasingly important role in setting precedent and direction for content policy at Facebook.”

He adds that in the long-term: “We hope its impact extends well beyond Facebook, and serves as a springboard for similar approaches to content governance in the online sphere.”

The announcement of the oversight board comes at a time when Facebook has been at the forefront of fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic, including reducing the spread of fake news.

Facebook is one of the first few global companies to come out in full support of efforts to reduce COVID-19.

As early as the beginning of March, Facebook announced it will run free adverts for the World Health Organisation, to share credible and accurate information on COVID-19.

Facebook has also launched key resources to help faith groups stay connected and engaged during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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