The Supreme Court of Facebook
“In a world where Facebook is deemed much too powerful, and where the company is constantly criticized by some for taking down too much, and by others for taking down too little, the new Oversight Board represents a potential solution to one of Facebook’s thorniest problems: Its control over global speech. This new board, which doesn’t yet exist, will make content decisions for a global network of 2.4 billion people, making it a de-facto Free Speech Supreme Court for one of the biggest communities on the internet.”
The board would make rulings on some of Facebook’s trickiest content moderation decisions. These would be after the fact, meaning the company’s moderators may have already made the wrong decision weeks before. The idea would be for the board to act as an independent group that ensures moderators made increasingly better decisions over time.
I’ve been as critical of Facebook as anyone else lately, but this is a positive move that could work really well. It’s easy to suspect this will just be a PR exercise that changes nothing, but if it’s implemented seriously, it could change user culture on Facebook’s platform for the better.
It seems Facebook is serious about the group’s independence, with the board choosing new members itself, rather than letting Mark Zuckerberg’s team select them. I would add that it’s important Facebook doesn’t pay the board directly, too. If it did, any decision the board made that outsiders viewed as being in Facebook’s favour would reduce the board’s perceived independence — ‘they only made that decision because they don’t want to lose their jobs.’
A much better solution is to pay the board through a non-profit entity funded in part by Facebook but also by charitable groups and wealthy benefactors who have an interest in a stable, pluralistic society. It’s important that these funders represent a diversity of viewpoints, too.
So, there are details to be ironed out, but at this stage in its development and influence, having some external influence on the culture of Facebook usage is a positive thing. And it might have an indirect positive impact on the behaviour of Facebook the business, too.