Maria Ressa, civil rights experts launch Real Facebook Oversight Board

A group of civil rights experts, scholars, and journalists announced on Friday, September 25, the formation of an independent council that wants to hold Facebook accountable and push for meaningful change on the platform. 

Called the Real Facebook Oversight Board, the group is made of 25 experts including Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa, and is named as such in reaction to the Facebook-made Oversight Board that’s still currently in-the-making. 

The Real Facebook Oversight Board will be completely independent from Facebook as opposed to the platform’s own board, also made up of experts from civil rights and the academia. Facebook funded its own oversight board, and although the company has made pronouncements of the board’s independence, it has also been criticized as a way for Facebook to skirt true meaningful regulation.

The Real Facebook Oversight Board, just by its name, questions the legitimacy of an oversight board with origins too close to the company it wants to oversee. (READ: Facebook's problems can't be solved by more Facebook)

The Real Facebook Oversight Board will hold its first meeting via Facebook Live on Thursday, October 1, US time to be hosted by Recode founder Kara Swisher. 

Facebook’s own oversight board was first mentioned in April 2018, with the board members, numbering at 20 experts, announced just last May 2020. The company says it plans to launch the board in October, right before the US elections, as the company tries to control destructive election misinformation.

According to NBC News , the Real Facebook Oversight Board is developed by The Citizens, an advocacy group based in the UK founded by The Guardian and Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr, known for exposing the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

Some of the experts in the new board include Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism; Rashad Robinson, president of the non-profit Color of Change, and Derrick Johnson from the The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), two groups that led the Facebook ad boycott in August 2020; former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves; Damian Collins, the UK Member of Parliament leading Britain’s efforts against Facebook; Roger McNamee, former Facebook investor-turned-critic; and ex-CIA officer Yael Eisenstat, former head of election integrity operations for political ads at Facebook.

The board will have weekly public Zoom meetings on a range of Facebook issues from hate speech to disinformation. 

Facebook spokesperson Jeffrey Gelman has criticized the board, as quoted by NBC, stating that the company’s own board will be a long-lasting institution with real binding and independent power over some of the platform’s “hardest content decisions.” 

"The members were selected for their deep experience in a diverse range of issues. This new effort is mostly longtime critics creating a new channel for existing criticisms,” Gelman told the site. 

Alan Rusbridger, a member of the company board and former editor of The Guardian, welcomed the new board, saying the more, the merrier.  

"If they can do things that shine a light on things Facebook shouldn't be doing or wishes that it wasn't doing or could do better, and we are doing the same thing, then that can only be good," he said.

The Real Facebook Oversight Board's page on The Citizens' website can be found here. – Rappler.com

Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.

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