These are the people Facebook put in charge of deciding whether to delete controversial posts

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KEY POINTS
  • Facebook announced the first 20 members of its Oversight Board.
  • The board is an independent body that can overturn the company’s own content moderation decisions.
  • Facebook said the board will begin hearing cases in the coming months.
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Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, October 23, 2019.
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, October 23, 2019.

Facebook on Wednesday announced the first 20 members of its Oversight Board, an independent body that can overturn the company’s own content moderation decisions.

The oversight board will govern appeals from Facebook and Instagram users and questions from Facebook itself, although it admitted it will have to pick and choose which content moderation cases to take due to the sheer volume of them.

The board will receive cases through a content management system that is linked to Facebook’s own platforms. They will then discuss the case as a group before issuing a final decision on whether the content should be allowed to stay up or not.

Facebook announced it was creating the independent board in November 2018, just after a report was published in The New York Times that detailed how the company avoided and deflected blame in the public conversation around its handling of Russian interference and other social network misuses.

The members are a globally diverse group with lawyers, journalists, human rights advocates and other academics. Between them, they are said to have expertise in areas such as digital rights, religious freedom, conflicts between rights, content moderation, internet censorship and civil rights.

Notable members include Alan Rusbridger, former editor in chief of The Guardian newspaper, and Andras Sajo, a former judge and VP of the European Court of Human Rights.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former Prime Minister of Denmark, is one of the board’s four co-chairs. “Up until now some of the most difficult decisions about content have been made by Facebook and you could say Mark Zuckerberg,” she said on a call with the press Wednesday. “Facebook has decided to change that.”

The board will begin hearing cases in the coming months. It will eventually have around 40 members, which Facebook will help pick, it said.

“It’s one thing to complain about content moderation and challenges involved, it’s another thing to actually do something about it,” said Jamal Greene, co-chair of the board. “These problems of content moderation really have been with us since the dawn of social media, and this really is a novel approach.”

The move could help Facebook avoid accusations of bias as it removes content deemed problematic. Some lawmakers and conservative speakers have said that Facebook censors politically conservative points of view, a claim the company rejects.

“It is our ambition and goal that Facebook not decide elections, not be a force for one point of view over another, but the same rules will apply to people of left, right and center,” Michael McConnell, another co-chair of the board, told reporters Wednesday.

Facebook pledged to give the board $130 million in funding last December, with the money expected to cover operational costs for at least six years. The board will be compensated an undisclosed amount for their time.

Facebook in January outlined the board’s bylaws, making it clear that the social media giant is still in control. The board’s decisions do not necessarily set any precedents that Facebook has to follow in the future, and the board is limited when it comes to content it can address.

The board said it will publish transparency reports each year and monitor what Facebook has done with its recommendations.

“It will be very embarrassing to Facebook if they don’t live up to their end of this,” Thorning-Schmidt, a co-chair, said.

Brent Harris, Facebook’s director of global affairs, said Facebook will implement the board’s decisions “unless they violate the law.”

The full list of members includes:

  • Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, human rights advocate at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa
  • Evelyn Aswad, University of Oklahoma College of Law professor who formerly served as a senior U.S. State Department lawyer
  • Endy Bayuni, journalist who twice served as the editor-in-chief of the Jakarta Post
  • Catalina Botero-Marino, Facebook Oversight Board co-chair, dean of the Universidad de los Andes Faculty of Law
  • Katherine Chen, communications scholar at the National Chengchi University and former national communications regulator in Taiwan
  • Nighat Dad, digital rights advocate who received the Human Rights Tulip Award
  • Jamal Greene, Facebook Oversight Board co-chair, Columbia Law professor
  • Pamela Karlan, Stanford Law professor and United States Supreme Court advocate
  • Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize laureate named as one of “History’s Most Rebellious Women” by Time
  • Maina Kiai, director of Human Rights Watch’s Global Alliances and Partnerships program
  • Sudhir Krishnaswamy, vice chancellor of the National Law School of India University
  • Ronaldo Lemos, technology, intellectual property and media lawyer who teaches law at Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
  • Michael McConnell, Facebook Oversight Board co-chair, Stanford Law professor who previously served as a federal circuit judge
  • Julie Owono, digital rights and anti-censorship advocate who leads Internet Sans Frontieres
  • Emi Palmor, former director general of the Israeli Ministry of Justice
  • Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian
  • Andras Sajo, former judge and vice president of the European Court of Human Rights
  • John Samples, helps lead a libertarian think tank and writes extensively on social media and speech regulation
  • Nicolas Suzor, Queensland University of Technology Law School professor
  • Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Facebook Oversight Board co-chair, former Prime Minister of Denmark
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