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Facebook’s board for ruling on questionable content takes shape. Here’s what you need to know

January 28, 2020, 7:00 PM UTC

Facebook has appointed the chief administrator of a new independent board that will make the controversial decisions about whether user posts violate its social network’s rules and should be removed.  

The appointment on Tuesday, along with the release of details about how the board will operate, provides new insight into how Facebook plans to police its site. But it also raises new questions about the company’s campaign against hateful content, misinformation, and violence, which many politicians criticize as inadequate and inconsistent.

In 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans for the independent oversight and suggested that it should be staffed by outside experts. It would serve as an appeals court for users whose content had been removed by Facebook employees and who want an additional review.

Here are four key topics about the board that Facebook addressed on Tuesday.

The board’s new boss

Facebook has appointed Thomas Hughes, formerly executive director of Article 19, a British media-rights organization, to lead the board’s administration. Previously, Hughes was at International Media Support, a Denmark-based nonprofit that works to protect journalism worldwide, in addition to the United Nations, the European Commission, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Hughes, who started on the job a week ago, was Hughes was among 70 people who in 2018 signed a letter to Facebook asking it to consider the global implications that are attached to the removal of content on its platform.

“When content is removed in error there are consequences to global freedom of expression,” Hughes read from the letter during a call on Tuesday. “The statement remains as true and important now if not more so than it was a year ago.”

Trying to create independence

In an effort to create some independence from Facebook, the new board’s staff will be employed by Oversight Board LLC. That entity’s new director will hire, lead, and oversee the board’s work independent of Facebook’s executives.

While the organization is intended to operate independently of Facebook, it is ultimately financially dependent on the company, which, last year, committed $130 million to its funding over the next six years.

In a nod to transparency, Facebook said that the board’s decisions will be published online and in its annual reports. Those reports are expected to include how and when Facebook implemented the board’s decisions along with any comments from the company about the decision. 

A lengthy appeals process

The board has 90 days to decide individual cases, after which Facebook has seven days to implement them. That means that content determined to be unfairly removed, or kept up, may not be reinstated for nearly 100 days.  

However, Facebook said this is merely a maximum amount of time, and that most cases are expected to move faster. Facebook says it also has the ability to expedite “urgent” cases for immediate consideration.

Facebook said the 90 days gives it time to alert the user involved that it’s removing content as well as give the user time to file an appeal. It also allows for time to translate posts, if necessary, before a review and for the board to conduct research.

Details about the oversight board

Facebook expects the trust that backs up the board to employ 30 to 40 people in the U.S. and U.K. Meanwhile, the oversight board will comprise up to 40 part-time board members as well as rely on a “vast network” of academics and experts.

Board members, who will have the be approved by trustees from the Oversight Board LLC, will serve three-year terms of up to two terms. Once board members are added, they can only be removed if they violate a code of conduct or step down. They will not be removed based on their content decisions, according to Facebook.

Board members will be announced in the “coming months,” Facebook said.