The Role of Facebook’s Oversight Board

The Oversight Board piqued my interest several months ago. Right after Facebook banned President Trump in early January 2021, the Board received an appeal. The Board’s task is to determine if Facebook made the right decision. If Facebook was right, Trump remains banned. If Facebook was wrong, Trump starts posting again.

However, whatever the outcome, Facebook must follow the Board.

The Board’s delayed its decision, originally expected in mid-April. The Board needs more time to review material regarding the Trump decision.

What is the Oversight Board?

It’s no secret that Facebook has challenges managing content produced by its 2+ billion users. The challenge has two main components. The first part is creating rules, guidelines, and algorithms to screen content across different languages and cultures to ensure everything is “acceptable.” Or at least acceptable according to Facebook’s fluid definition of the term.

The second part is the volume. With more than 2 billion users, even missing a small percentage of questionable content has a big impact. The missed content can still result in a sizable amount of posts or images that violate Facebook’s terms of service.

Facebook’s Oversight Board was created to provide oversight on difficult, or controversial decisions, Facebook made regarding content. The Board comprises individuals from different cultures, disciplines, and countries. Its main purpose is to provide independent and transparent oversight on appeals following Facebook’s decisions.

People submit appeals to the Board following a ban from Facebook. For example, should all nipples be banned on Facebook as something pornographic? Or indecent exposure? What if the nipple is in the context of breast cancer awareness? Or in support of breastfeeding? Or simply acceptable in some cultures?

Is the Oversight Board Necessary?

The Oversight Board is a new concept. It’s only been around for a little over a year. On the one hand, Facebook does need something to help manage its large and diverse group of users. Relying on the government for this type of oversight gets tricky. Governments move slow and will likely influence the direction of Facebook based on the political affiliation of a leader at any given time.

What Facebook needs is something that can make decisions quickly, work across cultures (and languages), and remain politically neutral. Can the Oversight Board fulfill this role? It’s too early to know. We’ll have to wait until the Board’s decisions trickle down to the actions taken by Facebook and the impact on users.

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