Facebook Is Creating an External Independent Board to Review Its Decisions on Content

The social network shared a draft charter for its formation

The board will be made up of a diverse set of up to 40 global experts busracavus/iStock

Facebook is forming an external oversight board of independent experts to review the social network’s decisions on whether content should be removed.

Vice president of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg introduced the draft charter (embedded below) for the oversight board in a Newsroom post, writing, “As we build out the board, we want to make sure it is able to render independent judgment, is transparent and respects privacy. After initial consultation and deliberation, we’ve proposed a basic scope and structure that’s outlined in this draft charter. We’ve also identified key decisions that still need to be made, like the number of members, length of terms and how cases are selected.”

Clegg said the questions in its draft charter will be answered at a series of workshops over the next six months in cities including Singapore; Delhi, India; Nairobi, Kenya; Berlin; New York; and Mexico City, with help from experts and organizations in fields including free expression, technology and democracy, procedural fairness and human rights.

He added, “We don’t want to limit input or feedback to a hand-picked group of experts that we work with frequently. We’re interested in hearing from a wide range of organizations, think tanks, researchers and groups who might have proposals for how we should answer these critical questions. We’ll be announcing more about how proposals can be submitted in the coming weeks.”

In the draft charter, Facebook described the external board as a body of independent experts who will be tasked with reviewing the social network’s most challenging decisions on content, saying that the board will have the power to overturn Facebook’s decisions on whether or not to remove certain posts from its platform.

The company said in the draft charter, “Facebook takes responsibility for our content decisions, policies and the values we use to make them. The purpose of the board is to provide oversight of how we exercise that responsibility and to make Facebook more accountable.”

Below are the questions Facebook is attempting to answer, followed by the suggested approaches for handling each task:

  • What is the right number of members to balance the ability to work as a group with the need to maximize diversity in expertise and background? Facebook said the board will be made up of a diverse set of up to 40 global experts.
  • How can the first members of the board be chosen in a way that is transparent and reasonable? Facebook said it will make its choices based on a review of qualifications that will be made public, with an eye toward geographic and cultural balance, as well as diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
  • How should future selection be made to ensure continued diversity, expertise and independence? Once the board is set, it will be responsible for selecting its future members. Facebook can propose potential additions, but it will be up to the board to approve them. The company cannot remove a board member unless he or she has violated the terms of their appointment.
  • What is the optimal term length for members? Facebook proposed a part-time fixed term of three years with one automatic renewal.
  • How should requests to the board be surfaced? Both the company and Facebook users who disagree with the company’s decisions will refer questions to the board. Facebook will do so in difficult cases, instances of recurring issues and when the company’s existing policy and enforcement practices create decisions that are inconsistent with its values.
  • How should the board select specific cases for consideration from the requests it receives? The social network said panels formed from a rotating set of an odd number of members will hear cases, and those panels can choose slates of eligible cases for subsequent panels to rule on, with a majority of those panels having to agree.
  • How can the board ensure cultural sensitivity while also issuing decisions that will affect 2.3 billion people around the globe? The board will have the ability to consult experts in order to make sure it has the proper linguistic, cultural and sociopolitical expertise to make the right decision. Facebook users and “pertinent stakeholders” can also submit arguments and materials.
  • How can Facebook ensure the board’s independent judgment? The board will not include current or former employees of the company, contingent workers of Facebook or government officials. Compensation will be standardized and it cannot be changed during the board’s term. There will be no lobbying of board members or offering them incentives. They must recuse themselves in cases where there is a potential conflict of interest. Individual board members’ names will not be associated with specific decisions. Private deliberations will not be revealed, except as expressed in official board explanations and decisions.
  • What will ensure the board’s commitment to its purpose and values? Facebook said it will publish a final charter, including a set of values, to serve as the basis for the board’s governance. Facebook’s commitments to the board and the board’s authority will also be specified.
  • What’s the right level of transparency to give the public insight into the board’s thinking while still protecting the safety and privacy of users and board members? Decisions will be made public with all appropriate privacy protections, and the board will have to weeks to issue explanations for each decision, which will not be attributed to individual members. In cases where decisions are not unanimous, the explanation may include feedback from a member of the minority.
  • How should the board ensure coherence, as decisions from different cases and panels could result in inconsistent conclusions? Panels deciding cases will ensure consistency with other issued opinions before finalizing their decisions, and other board members can review those decisions for consistency and coherence.

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