- The board is independent from Facebook, but Facebook is funding the board's operations to the tune of $130 million.
- If users believe their content was removed from the service unfairly or without cause, they can appeal to the independent board directly. If it decides to reverse Facebook's decision, that decision "will be binding," Zuckerberg said, "even if I or anyone at Facebook disagrees with it."
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
With over 2 billion users, Facebook has a major moderation problem on its hands.
Whether you're talking about the platform's use by Russian government-backed trolls in the 2016 US Presidential election , or to spread propaganda during the 2016 Rohingya genocide , or when a shooter livestreamed a mass shooting in New Zealand , Facebook has faced moderation issue after moderation issue across the past few years.
And the company is well aware of the enormity of its problem."One of the most painful lessons I've learned," CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in late 2018 , "is that when you connect two billion people, you will see all the beauty and ugliness of humanity."
As a result, Facebook is establishing an oversight board that it says is outside of Facebook's control, that can ultimately overrule Facebook's own policies on content management. The company has even pledged $130 million to get the board funded and operational, with plans to launch in 2020.
Here's everything we know so far:
In late 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a series of lengthy notes addressing high-level problems his company was attempting to solve.
The second such note, published in November 2018, was titled, " A Blueprint for Content Governance and Enforcement ."
As dry as it sounds, the note laid out Zuckerberg's plan to address what he described as one of the "most important issues" facing his company.
That issue: How to police a service with over 2 billion users.
"The past two years have shown that without sufficient safeguards, people will misuse these tools to interfere in elections, spread misinformation, and incite violence," Zuckerberg said. "One of the most painful lessons I've learned is that when you connect two billion people, you will see all the beauty and ugliness of humanity."
As a solution, Zuckerberg proposed something unheard of among the social media giants of the world: An independent board, separate from Facebook, that users could appeal to directly.
Facebook uses a combination of human and computer-based moderation tools to police its service. Algorithms attempt to catch the majority, and tens of thousands of human moderators act as the second line of defense.
But that's not nearly enough bandwidth to address billions of users' content. And even if it were, mistakes happen and mistakes on the scale of Facebook's size, however statistically small, have a huge impact.
"Given the size of our community," Zuckerberg said, "even if we were able to reduce errors to 1 in 100, that would still be a very large number of mistakes." As of the writing of his note, in November 2018, the company's moderation system was making, "the wrong call in more than 1 out of every 10 cases."
As a result, Zuckerberg proposed something that no other social media company has proposed: An independent board, separate from Facebook, that can outright overrule Facebook's own decisions.
The idea is simple: To provide a means for users to appeal Facebook's moderation decisions to an institution with a clear purpose, different from Facebook's.
"The purpose of this body would be to uphold the principle of giving people a voice while also recognizing the reality of keeping people safe," Zuckerberg said in his November 2018 note.
Exactly how that will work remains to be seen, but the idea goes something like this:
Both Facebook itself and Facebook users can surface issues with the independent oversight board. For most Facebook users, being able to appeal to the independent board will only become an option "after the direct appeals process with Facebook" concludes. All that means is you'll have to first appeal to Facebook.
Most importantly of all: Decisions made by the oversight board outright overrule Facebook itself, and can even overrule Zuckerberg's decisions. "The board's decision will be binding, even if I or anyone at Facebook disagrees with it," Zuckerberg said in a letter published in September 2019 .
The independent board, Zuckerberg said, would exist "to uphold the principle of giving people a voice while also recognizing the reality of keeping people safe."
The independent board is, according to Facebook, separate from the company of Facebook.
It requires its own offices, bureaucracy, and support staff. It isn't a subsidiary of Facebook, like Oculus or Instagram it's a completely different entity.
That separation is by design. It's a measure of the board's independence from the company it's intended to oversee.
The board's charter details the relationship between the board and Facebook as such:
- "Relationship with Facebook: Facebook will contract for services from the board.
- Relationship with trust: The board will be funded by the trust to support its operations and expenses.
- The board will recommend members for appointment by the trust."
That said, Facebook is directly responsible for financing the trust that finances the independent oversight board. Though the board is operated independently, it depends on the trust for operations funding.
Facebook is providing $130 million in startup capital to fund the board for its first six years, and promises to continue funding beyond that.
Despite the autonomy of the independent board, and despite it being funded by a separate trust, that trust receives its funding from who else? Facebook.
The startup capital for the board, if you will, is being provided by Facebook to the tune of $130 million, "which will cover operational costs such as office space, staff and travel expenses." The cash reserve is intended to fund operations for "approximately six years," and will be doled out on a yearly basis per a trust-approved budget.
Moreover, Facebook promised to continue funding the board indefinitely.
So, when will this independent board become active? Who's running it? And what are the next steps?
The only information about when the board will become active is "2020."
In the meantime, it appointed its first leader last month : Thomas Hughes. He will lead the new oversight group as its director of oversight board administration.
In his previous role, which he left in early January, Hughes served as the executive director of Article 19, a British human rights group that focuses on freedom of information and expression.
Alongside the announcement of its first director, the board's proposed bylaws were also published which contained one particularly interesting note about transparency: "The board will release all decisions publicly on its website and issue annual reports," it says. "These reports will contain the number and type of cases reviewed by the board, the breakdown of case submissions by region, and information on Facebook's implementation and response."
The latest update from Facebook on the board's creation process was in December 2019 , when Facebook director of governance and global affairs, Brent Harris, said the company is "eager to see the Oversight Board take shape and start hearing cases next year."
When pressed for an update on timing, a Facebook representative told Business Insider the company expects to have logistics lined up so that the board can begin hearing cases in the next few months.
- Facebook Australia's ex-head of operations is selling his San Francisco home that sits on a beloved off-beaten path in the city. Take a look inside the $4 million house.
- Everything we know about the massive $165 million compound Jeff Bezos reportedly just purchased, the Warner estate
- Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook is 'happy to pay more tax in Europe'
SEE ALSO: Facebook refuses to fact-check political ads, and it's infuriating employees and lawmakers. Here's why the issue continues to dog the company.