Facebook names first members of oversight board that can overrule Zuckerberg

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(Reuters) – Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) new content oversight board will include a former head of state, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and several constitutional law experts and rights advocates in its first 20 members, the company announced on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook symbol is seen on a motherboard in this picture illustration taken April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic /Illustration

The independent board, which will be able to overturn Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decisions on whether individual pieces of content should be allowed on Facebook and Instagram, is a high-profile response to criticism of how the social media company handles problematic content.

Facebook said the board’s members have lived in 27 countries and speak at least 29 languages, though a quarter of the group and two of the four co-chairs are from the United States, where the company is headquartered.

The co-chairs, who selected the other members jointly with Facebook, are former U.S. federal circuit judge and religious freedom expert Michael McConnell, constitutional law expert Jamal Greene, Colombian attorney Catalina Botero-Marino and former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Among the initial cohort are: former European Court of Human Rights judge András Sajó, Internet Sans Frontières Executive Director Julie Owono, Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman, Australian internet governance researcher Nicolas Suzor and Pakistani digital rights advocate Nighat Dad.

See a full list of oversight board members:

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of global affairs, told Reuters in a Skype interview that the board’s composition was important but that its credibility would be earned over time.

“I don’t expect people to say, ‘Oh hallelujah, these are great people, this is going to be a great success’ – there’s no reason anyone should believe that this is going to be a great success until it really starts hearing difficult cases in the months and indeed years to come,” he said.

The oversight board will start work immediately and Clegg said it would begin hearing cases this summer.

The board, which will grow to about 40 members and which Facebook has pledged $130 million to fund for at least six years, will make public, binding decisions on a small slice of controversial cases where users have exhausted Facebook’s usual appeals process. The company can also refer significant decisions to the board, including on ads or on Facebook groups.

The board can make policy recommendations to Facebook based on case decisions, to which the company will publicly respond. See how the board will work:

“We are not the internet police, don’t think of us as sort of a fast-action group that’s going to swoop in and deal with rapidly moving problems,” co-chair McConnell told reporters on a conference call, saying the board would instead deliver “an after-the-fact, deliberative, second look.”

Facebook said when reporting its most recent quarterly results that around 3 billion users interacted with at least one of its apps each month in the quarter.

The oversight board members’ roles are part-time but the board’s administrative head, Thomas Hughes, said working hours had not been decided. He said members’ pay will be set at a normal level for the technology sector but would not be disclosed.

Some free expression and internet governance experts told Reuters they thought the board’s first members were a diverse, impressive group, though some were concerned there were not more content moderation experts or that it was too heavy on U.S. members. Facebook said one reason for having a strong set of U.S. members was that some of its hardest decisions or appeals in recent years had begun in America.

“I don’t feel like they made any daring choices,” said Jillian C. York, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director of international freedom of expression.

David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, told Reuters the board’s efficacy would be shown when it started hearing cases, but that it could not be a catch-all solution to issues of online speech on the site.

“The big question,” he said, “will be, are they taking questions that might result in decisions, or judgments as this is a court, that go against Facebook’s business interests?”

Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, England; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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