Big Technology

Should We Trust The Facebook Oversight Board?

Some call it a scam. Others say it’s the best available option. Either way, the Facebook Oversight Board is about to decide whether Trump can use Facebook.

Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero
Published in
5 min readApr 19, 2021

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Hakan Nural/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Over the next few weeks, the biggest tech story will be the Facebook Oversight Board’s ruling on Donald Trump. Facebook suspended Trump indefinitely following the Capitol Riots earlier this year. And now the board — a 19-member body that can review and overturn Facebook’s content decisions — is about to decide whether to bring him back.

As we enter a frenzied news cycle over the board’s decision, the key question underlying it all will be whether we can trust this new entity, which Facebook set up last year.

Some call the board a necessary, Supreme Court-style institution that brings the public into Facebook’s decision-making process. Others say it gives us a false sense of representation in an inherently undemocratic content operation. “I can’t believe anyone takes it seriously,” Matt Stoller, director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project, told me. “It’s idiotic.”

Let’s briefly walk through the arguments for and against the board.

Side A: The Facebook Oversight Board Is a Scam

Critics of the board say it’s not actually independent, and its remit is so limited it distracts from Facebook’s real problems.

Though the board is authorized to review Facebook’s content moderation decisions, overturn them, and has final say, critics argue it still operates within a framework that Facebook set up. Facebook handpicked the board’s members, who make decisions using Facebook’s content guidelines, and Facebook pays their salaries via a trust. So it would be a bit of a stretch to call the board completely independent.

The board also has limited authority. It can only review a small number of cases each year, and its ability to go beyond simple content moderation decisions is limited. The board, for instance, can’t remove or reinstate groups, it can’t review Facebook’s recommendation algorithms, and it can’t influence how Facebook…

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Alex Kantrowitz
OneZero

Veteran journalist covering Big Tech and society. Subscribe to my newsletter here: https://bigtechnology.substack.com.