Why I’m Joining Facebook’s Oversight Board
Former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on why the social media giant ‘needs independent, external oversight’
Alan Rusbridger was the editor in chief of The Guardian between 1995–2015. He is Principal of Lady Margaret Hall; Chair of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism; and the author of Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now.
Almost exactly a year ago, back in the days when near strangers could strike up random conversations in Italian bars, I found myself learning about a new initiative on which Facebook was embarking — a kind of independent Supreme Court to help the company rule on the deluge of moral, ethical, editorial, and legal challenges it was facing.
We were in Perugia, the medieval hilltop Umbrian city where each year hundreds of journalists, technologists, and academics gather (or did, until Covid temporarily silenced those conversations) to talk all day — and sometimes much of the night — about the issues we all had in common.
In the bar of the Brufani Hotel late one evening, I asked lots of questions about this Facebook Oversight Board, an idea Mark Zuckerberg had announced the previous November. It seemed a promising move by a company which was exasperating and alienating so many people by its apparent unwillingness, or inability, to get grips with the torrent of lousy, malign content it was enabling and amplifying. As well as all the good stuff.
But the devil would lie in the detail — and there wasn’t much of that a year ago.
Facebook’s operating principle is to move fast and break things. In creating this Oversight Board, the company has proceeded extremely slowly and tiptoed over eggshells.
I am told there were more than 2,000 conversations to put together a board that was suitably global, diverse, eclectic, independent, and experienced. There have been charters written; bylaws drafted; a separate trust established; ring-fenced funding put in place; numerous hypothetical “trials” run. A big, bold idea like this can’t afford to fail.
Today, the company has unveiled the names of the first 20 members of a Board which should eventually grow to around…