Facebook forming oversight board following feedback campaign

Facebook is working on an oversight board to help handle users’ appeals about the content posted on the social media platform, but the company said in a report this week that it still has a long way to go.

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The 40-member board “intended to provide a layer of additional transparency and fairness” will focus on “content governance,” according to Facebook’s report, but it won’t be able to hear all requests for review. Other “pressing and important” issues like News Feed ranking and artificial intelligence won’t fall under the board’s jurisdiction, according to the report.

“Our task is to build systems that protect free expression, that help people connect with those they care about, while staying safe online,” said Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communication. “We recognize the tremendous responsibility we have not only to fairly exercise our discretion but also to establish structures that will evolve with the times.”

Facebook said it consulted with more than 2,000 people from 88 countries for feedback on the plan, holding six two-day workshops, 22 smaller roundtables and taking online feedback from all over.

The feedback was mixed, and a lot remains to be figured out, according to the report.

Facebook hasn’t yet determine how to choose members of the 40-person board. They had considered having the company choose the first group, and then allowing the board to select future members. But many people who gave feedback expressed concern about the board’s legitimacy if there was no external input.

Current and former Facebook employees would likely not be eligible for board seats, the company said.

Cases will go to the board when either Facebook sends requests or users make appeals. But the company hasn’t yet figured out how users’ appeals will be filtered. Feedback generally supported allowing the board to pick its own cases. Also, the board will likely be broken into smaller panels to hear different cases.

They also haven’t decided how much communication will be allowed between board members and Facebook employees, or whether third-party stakeholders will be able to present their views to the board.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans last year to establish an independent board, saying it could be in place by the end of 2019. But the new report stated that creating the board “is the work of years, not months,” emphasizing the importance of creating the board in a way that legitimizes it.

The company has looked at other oversight models, such as hospital incident review boards, academic research reviews, commercial arbitration, U.S. appeals courts and the Supreme Court, the French Court of Cassation and international trade courts.

The report echoed comments made by Zuckerberg this week, saying that the company “cannot deprive or grant anyone the freedom of expression, and yet it is a conduit through which global freedom of expression is realized.”

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Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Wednesday, Zuckerberg said he thinks it would be “overreach” for Facebook to stop people from saying something to their friends.

“I think that what we want to be doing is improving execution,” he said. “But I do not think we want to go so far toward saying that a private company prevents you from saying something it thinks is actually incorrect to another person.”