The Facebook Oversight Board: Creating an Independent Institution to Adjudicate Online Free Expression
82 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2020
Date Written: June 30, 2020
For a decade and a half, Facebook has dominated the landscape of digital social networks, becoming one of the most powerful arbiters of online speech. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, over two billion users leverage the platform to post, share, discuss, react to, and access content from all over the globe. Through a system of semipublic rules called “Community Standards,” Facebook has created a body of “laws” and a system of governance that dictate what users may say on the platform. In recent years, as this intricately built system to dispatch the company’s immense private power over the public right of speech has become more visible, Facebook has experienced intense pressure to become more accountable, transparent, and democratic, not only in how it creates its fundamental policies for speech but also in how it enforces them.
In November 2018, after years of entreaty from the press, advocacy groups, and users, CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would construct an independent oversight body to be researched, created, and launched within the year. The express purpose of this body was to serve as an appellate review system for user content and to make content-moderation policy recommendations to Facebook. This Feature empirically documents the creation of this institution, now called the Facebook Oversight Board. The Board is a historic endeavor both in scope and scale.
The Feature traces the events and influences that led to Facebook’s decision to create the Oversight Board. It details the year-long process of creating the Board, relying on hundreds of hours of interviews and embedded research with the Governance Team charged with researching, planning, and building this new institution.
The creation of the Oversight Board and its aims are a novel articulation of internet governance. This Feature illuminates the future implications of the new institution for global freedom of expression. Using the lens of adjudication, it analyzes what the Board is, what the Board means to users, and what the Board means for industry and governments. Ultimately, the Feature concludes that the Facebook Oversight Board has great potential to set new precedent for user participation in private platforms’ governance and a user right to procedure in content moderation.
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