Facebook Introduces the First 20 Members of Its Global Independent Oversight Board for Content

They have lived in over 27 countries and speak at least 29 languages

Facebook established a $130 million trust to fund all operations of the oversight board Facebook

Facebook revealed the first 20 members of its global independent oversight board for content: four co-chairs and 16 other members.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially mentioned the creation of the board in November 2018, and its bylaws were detailed in January, along with Thomas Hughes being named as the first director of oversight board administration.

Hughes is the former executive director of Article 19, an international non-governmental organization with a focus on freedom of expression and digital rights.

Facebook established a $130 million trust to fund all operations of the oversight board, and this trust cannot be revoked.

The board is made up of independent members from around the world—20 were named Wednesday, and the goal is to double that number through the latter part of 2020 and possibly running into 2021—and those members are tasked with making binding decisions on content that Facebook and Instagram should allow or remove, based on respect for freedom of expression and human rights.

Content enforcement decisions made by Facebook will be reviewed by the board, which will determine whether those rulings are consistent with the policies and values of Facebook and Instagram, as well as the commitment mentioned above on freedom of expression and human rights.

Co-chair Jamal Greene said during a press call Wednesday, “It’s one thing to complain about content moderation and the challenges involved. It’s another thing to actually do something about it. These problems of content moderation have been with us since the dawn of social media. This really is a novel institution and a novel approach to try to address those problems.”

When the board begins reviewing cases later this year, it will begin with appeals of decisions by Facebook and Instagram to remove content, with the hopes of expanding its scope in the coming months to also handle appeals from users who want content removed by the platforms.

Cases referred to the board by Facebook can also be reviewed.

Co-chair Michael McConnell said during the press call, “The sheer volume of decisions makes it impossible for the board to look at every controversy, decide every appeal, look at every case. We are going to select a few flowers, maybe they’re weeds, from a field of possibilities. This is going to be a real challenge. We’re not going to just be deciding individual cases.”

He added, “We are not the internet police. Don’t think of us as a fast-action group that’s going to swoop in and deal with problems. The hope is that although we can’t look at every case, the cases we do look at will have a broad impact on others. If your case isn’t taken, that doesn’t mean that your issue is going unaddressed.”

In terms of timing, Facebook said it is still assessing how the global response to the coronavirus pandemic may impact important steps required for the board to reach full operational capability, including recruiting staff, training members and implementing tools that are essential to ensuring data privacy and security.

Facebook director of governance and global affairs Brent Harris said during the press call that board members will not have access to artificial intelligence tools, and that they will access the content being analyzed via a content management system supplied by Facebook.

Facebook must abide by the board’s decisions unless doing so would put the company in violation of laws of countries impacted by those rulings.

Helle Thorning-Smith, one of the four co-chairs, said during the press call, “I don’t think any of us would have accepted this task if it hadn’t been very clear from the charter and the bylaws that Facebook will follow our decisions. It would be very embarrassing for Facebook if it doesn’t live up to its end of this bargain. Mark Zuckerberg has reassured us that this will be the case.”

Another co-chair, Catalina Botero-Marino, added, “Facebook would have a very high reputational cost if it were not to carry out the decisions of the body that it created.”

Members work for the board, and are not Facebook employees, nor can they be removed by the company. In addition to Facebook, they are independent from all other social media companies, as well.

Hughes said during the press call that board members are compensated for the time at a level standard to that for the technology sector, but Facebook would not disclose specific numbers.

They will render their judgments free from influence or interference, and all decisions will be made public, as will mandatory responses to those decisions from Facebook.

Decisions will be published on the board’s website, with the identity of involved parties withheld to protect their privacy.

The board will also issue annual reports to evaluate both its work and how Facebook is meeting its commitments.

Facebook provided details on the selection process.

The company led the recruitment of the four co-chairs, with help from recruiting specialists and outside consultants. It also partnered with Baker McKenzie on a public portal enabling anyone to nominate qualified candidates.

The four co-chairs then assumed responsibility for interviewing and approving the remaining members, in partnership with Facebook and executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

Facebook said in a Newsroom post, “The oversight board is composed of a remarkable group of members who are professionally diverse, representing a range of accomplishments, experiences and backgrounds. They have significant expertise in digital rights, religious freedom, conflicts between rights, content moderation, digital copyright, internet censorship, platform transparency and civil rights. They include a leading civil rights and social justice advocate, a prolific Facebook user (with millions of followers) and an international law scholar, as well as a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, editor in chief of a major global newspaper and head of state. Two members have between them argued 24 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The oversight board’s members have lived in over 27 countries and speak at least 29 languages. At least 70% of the members have lived in more than one country, and at least 90% speak more than one language.”

The social network added that between the 20 members revealed Wednesday, all of the world’s 10 most-spoken languages are covered, along with 16 of the top 20.

Languages spoken by members include Afrikaans, Arabic, Bahasa Indonesian, Bengali, Danish, English, Ewondo, Fang, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Kannada, Kiswahili, Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Sesotho, Sindhi, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu, Twi and Urdu.

The four co-chairs are:

  • Catalina Botero-Marino, dean of the Universidad de los Andes Faculty of Law and former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States.
  • Jamal Greene, a Columbia Law School professor whose scholarship focuses on constitutional rights adjudication and the structure of legal and constitutional argument.
  • Michael McConnell, constitutional law professor at Stanford Law School and former U.S. federal circuit judge, who has represented clients in a wide range of First Amendment cases involving freedom of speech, religion and association.
  • Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark and former CEO of Save the Children.

And the other 16 members are:

  • Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, a human rights advocate who works on women’s rights, media freedom and access to information issues across Africa at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.
  • Evelyn Aswad, University of Oklahoma College of Law professor and former U.S. State Department lawyer and specializes in the application of international human rights standards to content moderation issues.
  • Endy Bayuni, a journalist who twice served as editor in chief of the Jakarta Post and helps direct a journalists’ association promoting excellence in the coverage of religion and spirituality.
  • Katherine Chen, communications scholar at National Chengchi University, who studies social media, mobile news and privacy, and former national communications regulator in Taiwan.
  • Pamela Karlan, Stanford Law School professor and U.S. Supreme Court advocate who represented clients in voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights and First Amendment cases, and also serves on the board of the American Constitution Society.
  • Tawakkol Karman, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who used her voice to promote non-violent change in Yemen during the Arab Spring and was named as one of “History’s Most Rebellious Women” by Time.
  • Maina Kiai, director of Human Rights Watch’s Global Alliances and Partnerships Program and former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, with decades of experience advocating for human rights in Kenya.
  • Sudhir Krishnaswamy, vice chancellor of the National Law School of India University, who co-founded an advocacy organization that works to advance constitutional values for everyone, including LGBTQ+ and transgender persons, in India.
  • Ronaldo Lemos, a technology, intellectual property and media lawyer who co-created a national Internet rights law in Brazil, co-founded a nonprofit focused on technology and policy issues and teaches law at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro.
  • Julie Owono, a digital rights and anti-censorship advocate who leads Internet Sans Frontières and campaigns against Internet censorship in Africa and around the world.
  • Emi Palmor, former director general of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, who led initiatives to address racial discrimination, advance access to justice via digital services and platforms and promote diversity in the public sector.
  • Alan Rusbridger, former editor in chief of The Guardian, who oversaw its Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Edward Snowden disclosures.
  • András Sajó, former judge and vice president of the European Court of Human Rights and an expert in free speech and comparative constitutionalism.
  • John Samples, a public intellectual who writes extensively on social media and speech regulation, advocates against restrictions on online expression and helps lead a libertarian think tank.
  • Nicolas Suzor, a Queensland University of Technology Law School professor who focuses on the governance of social networks and the regulation of automated systems, and who has published a book on internet governance.

McConnell concluded during the press call, “We don’t know how it’s going to work. This has not been tried before. I have very high hopes that this oversight board is going to bring a higher degree of safety and political neutrality to the Facebook platform. This is going to be a high learning curve. There will be trial and error. We will make mistakes. We have to ask the public and members of the Facebook community for patience as we go through this process.”

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.