Facebook gave details on its content moderation Oversight Board

In a somewhat preemptive strike, Facebook released comprehensive plans for its Oversight Board for content moderation and broadened its definition of terrorism. The updates come after the company released results from a study about what the general public wants from the oversight body, and just before it’s set to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee to discuss its handling of violent and extremist content.

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The plans detail how and by when Facebook will populate the board, what its appeal and decision-making process will look like, and how it plans to remain both transparent and independent. By the end of the year, Facebook intends to have at least 11 people on the board from a diverse range of backgrounds, who can overrule CEO Mark Zuckerberg on content moderation decisions.

Facebook’s release of a detailed internal solution for content moderation should serve the company well as it attempts to defend itself against government scrutiny. The major platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Google by way of YouTube — have all come under increased fire for amplifying harmful content: Between the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing about tech’s role in fueling white nationalism and hate speech in April and continual outcry from activists, lawmakers, journalists, and bipartisan groups, the issue has risen to the fore.

And because of the real-world consequences linked to harmful content on Facebook, ranging from Russian election meddling in the US to genocide in Myanmar, the platform has come under a particularly high level of scrutiny. A concrete plan to avoid similar failures is likely to help placate regulators.

Facebook’s model — the first of its kind — could both provide a roadmap for other tech giants eager to alleviate content moderation pressure and also inform eventual regulation:

  • Tech companies. Given the very public nature of its process documentation, other tech companies could borrow from Facebook’s plan. It wouldn’t be the first time platforms copied a good idea around self-regulation: LinkedIn and YouTube both began publishing content moderation transparency reports in 2011, and now Facebook and Instagram, Google, Twitter, Snap, and Pinterest all release some version of the same.
  • Regulators. Zuckerberg has made no secret of his eagerness to collaborate with regulators on content moderation, and Facebook’s Oversight Board could provide a starting point for such collaboration. If the model proves effective, regulators could simply mandate that open platforms with a certain number of users create a similar mechanism of their own. They could also build on the idea further, or borrow less directly and keep the pieces that work while discarding those that don’t.

While regulators and other tech companies will be interested in Facebook’s Oversight Board, users will likely be more concerned with the company’s policy changes around harmful content. Facebook has a wide variety of stakeholders to please, and its most recent batch of updates could help it improve its standing with them all.

The mechanics of what is effectively a corporate risk management process may not mend its relationship with users, but that might also not be its specific point. More concrete changes to policy, like Facebook’s effort to clearly define terrorist organizations according to their on-platform behavior, could more effectively send a message that Facebook is listening to user concerns.

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