Facebook's Supreme Court Is In Place… And Everyone Hates It, Because Facebook Makes Everyone Hate Everything
from the wait-and-see dept
Facebook seems to really dislike it when people refer to its Oversight Board as the Facebook Supreme Court, but it’s just too good a name not to use. The company announced plans a while back to create this Oversight Board to review a narrow slice of its moderation decisions. As I discussed two years ago when such an idea was floated, people all over the place freaked out mainly because they hate Facebook so anything associated with Facebook must automatically be deemed bad and evil.
But, in reality, I still believe that we should view this as an interesting experiment in actually letting go of some moderation powers. That is not to say that Facebook will necessarily do a good job, but I’m perplexed by the people who seem so angry about this board because they hate Facebook, when the whole setup is that this is Facebook removing some amount of autonomy over its own moderation decisions. For people who were already angry at Facebook’s content moderation decision making, you’d think they’d support moving those decisions at least a quarter-step away from Facebook’s own control.
Last week, Facebook finally announced the original Oversight Board members and the board itself put out its own announcement combined with a NY Times op-ed from the four “co-chairs” of the board: Catalnia Botero-Marino, Michael Mcconnell, Jamal Greene, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
There are legitimate reasons to criticize and worry about the board — as we discussed in a podcast last year — there remain concerns about how much power the board will actually have, and how independent it will really be. Facebook has tried to alleviate those concerns by the structure of the Oversight Board, in which Facebook did commit to funding the trust that will pay for the oversight board, so Facebook can’t magically yank the funding. And while Facebook did pick those four co-chairs mentioned above, the chairs then picked all the remaining members by themselves. And, as the chairs themselves noted, some of them have been quite critical of Facebook’s decision-making in the past. Facebook has no ability to remove any board member.
A more reasonable criticism of the board is that it’s very limited in scope and power. It will only review a very narrow set of moderation concerns. The board chairs note that they will try to choose more consequential cases to review:
We will not be able to offer a ruling on every one of the many thousands of cases that we expect to be shared with us each year. We will focus on identifying cases that have a real-world impact, are important for public discourse and raise questions about current Facebook policies. Cases that examine the line between satire and hate speech, the spread of graphic content after tragic events, and whether manipulated content posted by public figures should be treated differently from other content are just some of those that may come before the board.
There also remain questions about how “binding” these decisions will be on Facebook, and what Facebook will do when its management truly disagrees with a Board decision.
And it’s certainly easy to go through the composition of the board and find individuals who you disagree with on their views, but, to some extent, it wouldn’t be a very good board if anyone agreed with everyone on the board. Personally, I’ll note that of the members of the board who I know (or whose work I’m familiar with), they all are very thoughtful and principled people who have spent a long time thinking through various issues regarding free speech and content moderation (side note: Jamal Greene, who is one of the co-chairs, edited my Protocols, Not Platforms paper for the Knight 1st Amendment Institute).
On the whole, while I agree that it’s unlikely that the board will have that much real world impact, I do think that it’s a worthwhile experiment in taking a different approach to some aspects of content moderation, and that it’s doing so in a manner that actually takes some power away from Facebook itself, even if the amount of that power is very, very small.