Kate Klonick / Is Facebook’s Oversight Board Working? / 09.03.2021

Kate Klonick is an assistant professor at St. John’s University Law School and an affiliate fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Her research focuses on private governance of online speech, and her most recent work in this area focused on the development of Facebook’s new Oversight Board, the independent body that hears appeals on content from Facebook users and advises the platform about its online speech policies.

Talk: Is Facebook’s Oversight Board Working?

Abstract: In November 2018, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would set up the Oversight Board — a diverse body of individuals to adjudicate issues of free expression on the platform. Over the course of a year, Facebook engaged in a year long process to build the Board, make it sufficiently independent, garner public trust, and fund its endeavors.

By the time the initial membership of the Board was announced in May 2020, the world was at the start of a global pandemic and the United States was embattled in a historic presidential election. It wasn’t until the eve of that election that the Board began to actually hear cases and in the months afterward issue rulings. In these early stages the primary mechanism of seek review from the Board was by having your single-object content (text, photo, or video) removed. Users could not appeal account bans, nor could they request review of content they had wanted to be removed but that Facebook had declined to take down. If the Board was to review such cases, they had to be sent to the Board from Facebook itself.

On January 6, 2021 as insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, then President Donald Trump tweeted his support and cross-posted to Facebook. Within a few hours the posts were removed, and by the following day, Facebook announced that Trump’s account was suspended. The day after President Biden’s inauguration, Facebook referred Trump’s account suspension to the Board. In early May, the Board responded — upholding the suspension for now, but demanding more transparency and procedure from Facebook going forward. Some saw the Board’s decision as a punt, others applauded its restraint, and Facebook was curiously silent.
As the world approaches its first year with an active Oversight Board, this paper asks the simple question: is the Oversight Board working and if so, for who? Necessary to determining this is looking at the nature of the Oversight Board as an institution; its role as a stakeholder in online free expression; its power against and within Facebook; and what is has meant for individual rights of free expression worldwide.

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