As Facebook continues to grapple with questions about its ad policies, political content, messaging encryption plans, misinformation and more, The Social Network has this week announced the next stage in the development of its independent content oversight board, which, when established, will help Facebook make more informed decisions on what should, and should not, be allowed under its rules.
Facebook began its initial steps towards establishing the new board last year, and released its first draft charter in late January 2019. It's since gone through a public consultation process, and established its plans for appointing board members. And now, Facebook has created an Oversight Board Trust, which will fund the operation, while it's also mapped out a Human Rights Impact Review for the board to ensure that its decisions are made within the best possible framework.
On the Oversight Board Trust, Facebook says that:
"We’ve established the independent Oversight Board Trust to ensure the board can safeguard its ability to make independent decisions and recommendations. [...] The board will have its own staff, independent from Facebook. To start, we expect this staff to include a director, case managers and dedicated staff members (or contracted services) who can support things such as the board’s communications, legal, human resources and research needs."
Facebook has also made an initial commitment of $130 million to the Trust, which will cover operational costs, and should allow the board to operate for at least its first two full terms (approximately 6 years).
In regards to the human rights assessment:
"We worked with BSR, an independent nonprofit organization with expertise in human rights practices and policies, to commission a Human Rights Impact Review to help understand how best to structure the board so that it respects and promotes human rights. The recommendations in the assessment, including on the diversity of board members, remedies, user support, transparent communications and privacy-protective tools, have helped inform the board’s charter, as well as its bylaws."
These are the latest steps in Facebook's effort to show that it can, and will, improve its processes to ensure better outcomes in its decision-making. Given the influence that Facebook now wields, government organizations have become increasingly nervous about its power - and as those concerns rise, so too do the chances of Facebook being subjected to more stringent regulatory controls, or even, as some have proposed, having its business broken up to dilute its power.
Facebook obviously wants to avoid either of these outcomes, and the appointment of an independent content board will likely help - so long as they're actually able to remain independent, and have a say in Facebook's subsequent decisions.
In some respects, having Facebook fund their existence seems like a conflict, though a necessary one to ensure its establishment.
Will that impact the board's decisions? We won't know till it's enacted, and until we're able to see how, exactly, the group will change Facebook's approach.
You can read more about Facebook's Global Oversight Board, including all the relevant documentation, here.