The big question surrounding Facebook’s independent Oversight Board project has always been, how much influence can it actually have and will it actually be able to get Facebook to evolve its more controversial guidelines?
The core concept makes sense – Facebook has set up a group of experts from various fields to provide another way to review its content decisions, which essentially gives Facebook users the ability to seek more fairness and impartiality, while also providing guidance for policy decisions made by Facebook.
Given the various challenges Facebook faced on this front – from allowing anti-Semitic speech to “censoring” the former president – many would agree that it is urgently needed, but technically, Facebook does not have to make any of the board’s decisions.
Is it you? Has Facebook implemented the board’s recommendations – and does that help improve its approach?
The new quarterly update from Facebook’s board of directors offers a new level of transparency and outlines the full scope of the board’s actions to date and how Facebook has responded to its recommendations.
At first glance, the Oversight Board seems to be helping to improve Facebook’s systems.
As you can see in this graph, in the first quarter of 2021, based on six cases, the supervisory board made 18 recommendations, of which Facebook 14 fully or partially implemented.
“[We’re] evaluated the feasibility of implementing three and no action was taken in one. The scope and breadth of the board’s recommendations go beyond the guidelines we first anticipated when the board was formed, and some require months or years of investment. “
In addition to these individual case notes, Facebook has also asked the board to evaluate 26 of its substantive decision-making cases – those related to its platform rules – of which the board selected three.
These three case areas relate to:
- A case of supposed COVID-19 cures
- A case of a veiled religious threat
- A case about the decision to suspend former US President Donald Trump’s account indefinitely
The last one you might have heard of, while the other decisions have given Facebook more guidance on its general platform rules and regulations, which gives it more insight – and ideally leads Facebook to create more balanced, nuanced rules for what it will and will not accept on its platforms.
Of course, this will never please everyone. Some users will view such rules as censorship, while others say Facebook needs to do more to keep users safe.
Everything can’t always be done right, but the addition of these independent expert insights will ideally help Facebook better adjust to societal expectations and reduce the platform’s potential negative impact by helping to alleviate some of the more controversial and divisive elements.
Facebook says it has already implemented various upgrades based on this guide, including improved explanations for policy violations and new ones Tests to assess the impact of telling people if automation was involved in enforcement. Facebook says it has also updated its Policy on Dangerous Organizations and People by “creating three levels of content enforcement for different levels of severity and adding definitions of key terms”.
So the supervisory body has an impact as its outside perspective helps to better shape the platform’s political approach.
That could lead more platforms or regulators to seek similar implementations – and that is exactly what Facebook’s Oversight Board project is all about. Facebook does not want to be the one who sets the rules for what is and what is not allowed on its platform, but wants all digital platforms to be subject to the same rules and enforcement, which can only be done through an independent assessment like this.
The Oversight Board is actually Facebook’s experiment to show how this could work, and it could eventually provide a framework for regulating and improving online discourse.
The results here give an insight into this process with a view to this future.
And they look promising, at least based on these early findings.
You can view the full Q1 report from Facebook’s board of directors here.