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Facebook free speech panel joined by ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger

Posted on: May 7, 2020 by Mariella Brown

Facebook has announced members of its new content oversight board to include a former Danish Prime Minister and three judges as well as former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger.

The independent board will help set company policy on issues of freedom of expression and is said to be part of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s roadmap to remove Facebook from arbitrating free speech decisions on the platform around the world.

Among the 20 new board members are: former European Court of Human Rights judge András Sajó; Internet Sans Frontières Executive Director Julie Owono; Yemeni activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman.

Facebook initially selected four co-chairs, including a former US federal circuit judge Michael McConnell and ex-Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who jointly worked with the social media company to appoint the new board members.

The social media giant says the board will have the power to overturn company decisions on individual pieces of content and recommend policy changes. In the first instance, the oversight board will manage appeals from users whose content has been removed and previous appeal routes have been exhausted.

The company has been under pressure during the pandemic to address fake news and disinformation that is posted on its platforms and was earlier this week criticised by DCMS chair Julian Knight over its answers to an Online Harms committee hearing.

Co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt told the Guardian, “In this health crisis we are seeing that social media helps us stay connected. But there’s a downside: it can spread speech that is hateful, deceitful and harmful.

“Until now some of the most difficult decisions about moderation have been made by Facebook and, ultimately, by Mark Zuckerberg himself. But we will now for the first time have an independent body that will take final and binding decisions on what content stays up and what content is removed.”

Newly appointed board member Alan Rusbridger, who was Guardian editor from 1995 until 2015, added:

“The oversight board seems to be the first imaginative and bold step by one of the biggest players to find a way of reconciling the need to start imposing some kind of judgment and standards on what is published, while still maintaining the things that are wonderful about social media, and necessary for free speech.”

Co-chair Michael McConnell told Reuters, “We are not the internet police, don’t think of us as sort of a fast-action group that’s going to swoop in and deal with rapidly moving problems.”

Board member and internet governance researcher Nicholas Suzor added, “We’re not working for Facebook, we’re trying to pressure Facebook to improve its policies and its processes to better respect human rights. That’s the job.”

The board members, who altogether can speak 29 different languages, are said to have differing views on freedom of expression and where it can be legitimately curtailed.

Facebook says it plans for the independent board to grow to 40 members and has pledged $130m to fund it for at least six years.

More information about the 20 Facebook oversight board members can be found here.