The Meta Oversight Board and the Empty Promise of Legitimacy
70 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2023
Date Written: September 7, 2023
The Meta Oversight Board is an audacious experiment in self-regulation by one of the world’s most powerful corporations, set up to oversee one of the largest systems of speech regulation in history. In the few years since its establishment, the Board has in some ways defied its many skeptics, by becoming a consistent and accepted feature of academic and public discourse about content moderation. It has also achieved meaningful independence from Meta, shed light on the otherwise completely opaque processes within the corporation, instantiated meaningful reforms to Meta’s content moderation systems, and provided an avenue for greater stakeholder engagement in content moderation decision-making. But the Board has also failed to live up to core aspects of its role, in ways that have gone underappreciated. The Board has consistently shied away from answering the hardest and most controversial questions that come before it—that is, the very questions it was set up to tackle—and has not provided meaningful yardsticks for quantifying its actual impact. Understanding why the Board eschews these questions, and why it has nevertheless managed to acquire a significant amount of institutional legitimacy, suggests important lessons about institutional incentives and the revealed preferences of stakeholders in content moderation governance. Ultimately, this Article argues, the current political environment incentivizes a kind of oversight that is formalistic and unmoored from substantive goals. This is a problem that plagues regulatory reform far beyond the Board itself, and shows that generalized calls for “more legitimate” content moderation governance are underspecified and may, as a result, incentivize poor outcomes.
Keywords: content moderation, online speech regulation, institutional design, international human rights law, Oversight Board, self-regulation
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