Facebook Oversight Board Announces New Member Names

Facebook released the names of the members of its new Oversight Board, which has the power to overrule company chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Law professor Kate Klonick dubs it a “historic moment,” and “the first time a private transnational company had voluntarily assigned a part of its policies to an external body like this.” Facebook’s four co-chairs spent much of 2020 choosing the other 16 members. They and Facebook will choose another 20, but from then on, the members will be selected without Facebook input.

Wired reports that, “the co-chairs give a good indication of what kind of people Facebook wants on the board: serious people of accomplishment with backgrounds in governance and law.” They are Columbia University law professor Jamal Greene; former federal judge Michael McConnell, now at Stanford Law School and Hoover Institution; former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who was later chief executive of Save the Children; and Colombia attorney/law professor Catalina Botero-Marino, who was also special rapporteur for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In early 2018, “Zuckerberg, sensitive to criticism after the 2016 election, thought outsourcing some decisions to an independent entity would help Facebook’s credibility.” Since then, Facebook “assigned more than 100 people to help set up the board’s structure and create a set of software tools that would help it make its judgments.” In late 2019, it “set up an independent trust, funded by a $130 million grant, to manage the board, hire the staff, and pay members.”

The board will initially “only consider appeals in cases where Facebook took down user content; later it will tackle cases where arguably objectionable content was allowed to stand.”

The board members — who will be independent from Facebook — are evenly split between men and women, come from 27 countries and include political conservatives. Five members come from the U.S., four from Europe, two from sub-Saharan Africa, two from the Middle East/North Africa, two from Latin America, two from Central and South Asia and three from Asia Pacific.

Wired notes that, “India, the country with the largest Facebook population, got one board member [and] Stanford’s law school got two.” Only two members are “well versed in computer programming languages.” Wired points out that one “hint of the direction of future decisions” can be found in the “number of the members who have spent their careers focused on human rights, most notably Tawakkol Karman, the face of the Yemeni Arab Spring revolt and 2011 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook vice president for global affairs Nick Clegg stated that, “we are perhaps more conscious as a company than most that the issue of free content versus free expression is probably more polarized in the United States than it is anywhere else.” “I think you’d be hard pressed to claim these people are going to dutifully toe the Facebook line,” he said, noting that, “the board will have no role in overseeing the algorithms that determine how content is distributed or suppressed.”