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.

Filed Under: content moderation, content moderation at scale, facebook supreme court, oversight board
Companies: facebook, facebook oversight board


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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 11:34am

    Re: Moderation

    The problem with moderation at scale, as Mike Masnick repeatedly points out, is that those who call for more moderation tend to yell the loudest when they get their own selves in the nosehairs and say "No, I meant you to moderate them, not me, stupid!" when they really should've been careful what they actually wished for…

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 12:30pm

    Switching the pen from your right hand to your left is not moving the decision of what you write away from your own control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Koby (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 1:12pm

    No Confidence

    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.

    But it probably wouldn't be a very good board if you go through the composition of the board and couldn't find ANYONE you agreed with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 1:35pm

    Joke's on you. I hated everything way before Facebook.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 3:15pm

    If fb can stop a single part of it it's a great thing but I still don't see a solution to the LSD and human trafficking.

    Also the genocide complaints against it appear to be valid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 11 May 2020 @ 9:29pm

    Regulatory capture

    I am just not seeing the independence here -- or the value.

    Imagine that this was AT&T, and they picked four members of the FCC, and then those members picked the other members. We don't have to guess how that turns out, that's what we have now. We call it regulatory capture: theoretically independent -- the FCC members certainly claim independence -- in practice, slavish lap dogs.

    Expect this board to uphold FB decisions 99.75% of the time, of the 0.000005% of FB decisions it actually reviews.

    ...and not even binding?

    As useful as screen doors on a submarine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2020 @ 9:41pm

      Re: Regulatory capture

      The fcc appears to be pretty toothless. FB is one of the problems but may be unable to actually help fix the problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2020 @ 12:59pm

    Not Sure Who Any Of These People Are, but...

    "Botero-Marino" … "Jamal" … "Thorning-Schmidt" ?

    Yeah, I wonder why anyone would be concerned this Facebook Oversight Board might not represent what the average American Facebook user would want "moderated" and not "moderated" ….

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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