Facebook is being applauded for a new “bold experiment” in content decision-making by tech journalist Larry Magid, a founding member (for the last 10 years) of what he describes as “the less powerful Facebook Safety Advisory Board, which is composed of safety experts mostly representing nonprofit organizations in several countries….
“We are not empowered to overrule Facebook’s management.”
Facebook is a company, not a government, but its user base is bigger than the population of any country in the world and the decisions made by its staff affect people in some of the same ways as decisions made by legislatures and courts in many countries. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way Facebook regulates speech. What it allows and forbids affects people’s ability to communicate, but also impacts their safety, privacy, security and human rights… [W]hen it comes to some decisions, even Zuckerberg realizes that the stakes are too high for one person or one company to hold all the cards, and that’s one of the reason’s Facebook is in the process of putting together an Oversight Board for Content Decisions.
That board, which will be made up of a diverse group of about 40 people from around the world, will be like what The Verge called a “Supreme Court for content moderation.” The board, according to Facebook, will serve as an “independent authority outside of Facebook,” and have the power to “reverse Facebook’s decisions when necessary….” This is an extraordinary and mostly unprecedented undertaking from a private company which recognizes the potential impact of its decisions. If the board operates as planned, it will have the ability to overrule Zuckerberg himself on matters of what content is and isn’t allowed on the service… If Facebook does a good job in creating a board which is both representative and independent and if it faithfully abides by its decisions, even when they are in conflict with what executives like Zuckerberg want, it will be at least a partial shift in the nature of corporate governance by creating a body that is neither controlled by the corporation itself or the governments in countries where the corporation operates.
At the end of the day, local law in each jurisdiction will trump any decisions by this board and — I suppose — Facebook could change its mind and fail to implement one or more of the board’s decisions, but if we take the company at its word, that isn’t supposed to happen… Although Facebook is not completely rewriting the rules of corporate governance, it is making a bold move that changes the way some of its most important decisions will be made by empowering people who represent those affected by the company who — without such a board — would have no power over how the company operates. It is, to an extent, taking on powers held by governments as well as powers held by stockholders and board members. It’s a bold experiment.