The company will create a global 40-person board made up of people appointed by Facebook.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon in late May, roughly 30 Facebook Inc. employees gathered at the company's Menlo Park, California, headquarters to talk about sexual harassment.
The reality is the group had no authority to determine the post's fate that had been decided years ago by Facebook's content moderators, who decided to leave it up. The employees were instead gathered for a role-playing exercise, the latest in a series of simulations Facebook is running globally on its way to creating a new Content Oversight Board that will review controversial decisions made by the company's content moderators. If someone believes their post was removed in error, or the general public takes issue with a post that was allowed to remain, the board may step in and provide a final ruling. The list of creepy academics is the kind of post the board may one day review.
One employee posed a question to the group right before they adjourned. "These are evolving situations, right?" said the employee, who Bloomberg agreed to keep anonymous as part of observing the session."Pretend one week later, two weeks later, someone on that list commits suicide. A week later another person commits suicide. Do we take it down? Do we say, no, we decided to keep it up?" In the end, the group voted overwhelmingly that the list should remain up G 22 votes in favour, 4 against G though few employees seemed fully convicted in their decision.
It undoubtedly comes with challenges. The board's independence will most certainly be an issue, and it's unlikely the board will move at the speed necessary to keep up with the internet's viral tendencies. But Facebook is on an elaborate listening tour in hopes of turning this Supreme Court vision into a reality that people can trust.
The idea for FacebookGs Supreme Court originated with Noah Feldman, an author and-'Harvard law professor who pitched the concept of a 'Supreme Court of Facebook' to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg in January 2018. (Feldman is also a columnist for Bloomberg View.)
Feldman's pitch outlined the need for an independent, transparent committee to help regulate the company's content decisions. It was passed along to Zuckerberg, and Facebook ultimately hired Feldman to write a white paper about the idea and stay on as an adviser. The first time the idea was floated publicly was on a podcast that Zuckerberg did with Vox's Ezra Klein, where he mentioned the idea for an independent appeals process 'almost like a Supreme Court.'
Facebook's tentative plan is outlined in a draft charter. The company will create a global 40-person board made up of people appointed by Facebook. it's unclear how many content cases the board will review, though Facebook envisions each case will be reviewed by 3 to 5 members. Once a decision is made, it's final, and the ruling board members will then write a public explanation, and could even suggest that Facebook tweak its policies.
The board is intended to take some of that power. Zuckerberg has promised these decision-makers will be free of influence by Facebook and its leaders G though getting to true independence will be the company's first big challenge. "It's all well and good for people on the outside to kind of prescribe that, yeah, Facebook needs to cede some of its power to outsiders," said Nate Persily, a Stanford law professor and expert in election law. "But when you start unpacking how to do that, it becomes extremely complicated very fast."
"If they're going to do any reasonable slice of the cases that are going to go through the appeals process, it's going to have to be much larger or it's going to have to be full-time," Persily said.
The Bonavero Institute summarized its suggestions in a 13-page report, which included everything from different ways Facebook could pick cases for the board to review, to recommendations on how the board should be compensated. Both the EFF and the Bonavero Institute hammered home the importance of keeping the board independent.
Facebook is expected to publicly release a new report with findings from its simulations later this week.
Achieving real independence will be tricky given Facebook plans to appoint the initial board members, who will serve three-year terms. It will also pay them, though through a trust. Then the plan is for the board to self-select its replacement members as terms expire. The idea is that, while Facebook may appoint the initial group, future generations of the board will be free of FacebookGs influence.
Then there's the speed problem. it's unrealistic to expect that the board's decisions will happen with the speed necessary to police the internet. That means the board will likely serve more like a post-mortem a way to review decisions that have already been made, and if needed, issue a ruling that could impact how future posts are handled by moderators.
"One of the things we need to figure out is what is a version of a more urgent [board] session?" said Brent Harris, director of governance and global affairs at Facebook. GǣDoes that make sense, and what does that look like?"
The board, she says, may not move quick enough to solve all of Facebook's content problems, but at least it should provide an outside voice so that Facebook alone isn't responsible for free speech rules online.- "I see this [oversight board] as a solution for maybe that problem," she added, "and unfortunately, not for the problem of the outrage machine"
"Part of me is terrified [and] totally not delusional to the fact that...there's just a really big chance that this just flops," she said.