Meta's Oversight Board, a model for the Internet, is extinct.

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Last summer, the situation was dire for Meta's Oversight Board, an experimental court of journalists, analysts and experts tasked with investigating Meta's handling of controversial posts. Meta, its sole funder, had privately threatened to withdraw support, forcing the board to cut costs or find new sources of revenue.

The Oversight board has tried to find new clients for years, reaching out to YouTube, TikTok, Pinterest and other tech companies without luck, all of which have named Spoke on condition of non-disclosure. Discussing private organizational matters. Many cited Meta's tarnished reputation, noting that the board — launched with much fanfare in 2020 — failed to improve the social media giant's image.

However, now the Oversight Board may get a second chance. A broad European law, known as the Digital Services Act (DSA), requires tech companies to provide an independent panel of experts to social media users who want to appeal bans on their accounts. And the board is offering itself to the task.

Some said the board's trust, an independent body that oversees its finances, had funded a separate center to handle the influx of European consumer appeals. Thomas Hughes, former administration director of the Oversight Board, will lead the new organization, which has applied to become one. “Out-of-Court Dispute Settlement Body” in Ireland.

Oversight board co-chair Hale Thorning-Schmidt said in a statement that the “oversight board trust is exploring initiatives that would require complete independence from the board.”

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Some employees and board members worry about focus. Moderation issues in trivial content can jeopardize the group's original mission of accountability. Social network used by billions. In the board's early days, reporters covered its decisions on hate speech, coronavirus misinformation and former President Donald Trump's controversial ban on Oval Office briefings. Some experts hailed the board — which could even replace Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg — as a new model for social media governance.

Four years later, industry changes have left the supervisory board in limbo. Like many social media companies, Meta has weakened or cut many of the systems and staff that once protected the platform from potential harm, and has shifted its focus to complying with landmark European law. . Some watchdogs criticize the board as a slow-moving organization that costs too much, and question its relevance to the company, regulators and the general public.

gave The board, meanwhile, is trying to expand its influence, appointing new leaders with a mandate to take on a larger, more productive case load with less money than Meta.

“For it to have power, Meta needs to believe it's adding value,” said Evelyn Duke, an assistant professor of law at Stanford who has studied the board. “The board still has to prove its worth.”

The Oversight Board was envisioned by Noah Feldman while driving through the hills of Old La Honda Road in North Bay. Her college classmate — Metta's then-COO Sheryl Sandberg — booked the Harvard law professor meetings with company policy officials to learn more about the problems facing social media companies.

In Feldman's opinion, many of the company's controversial issues were beyond the expertise of its employees.

Facebook needs a Supreme Court, he thought — a group of people from different fields who can use their experience to make the tough calls. Feldman typed up a 1,200-word memo and sent it courtesy of Sandberg. Sandberg, initially, relayed the skepticism to Zuckerberg.

In the absence of regulation, private companies were forced to set the boundaries of acceptable speech. Zuckerberg argued.

“It's a big governance experiment,” Zuckerberg said in 2019. If successful, this board could become an important part of how online expression and communities work.

Metta in 2019 put $130 million into an independent trust for the board to use for the next six years. Three years later, Metta added another $150 million in donations. This Never said how much funding it would provide in the future.

The oversight board's decisions to remove pieces of content are binding — even trumping Zuckerberg's. Its recommendations on overall policies and rules are considered, but not automatically enforced. Cases are decided and written by a five-member board panel and then sent to the full board for a vote — a process that takes 90 days or less.

The group was controversial from the start. Some Meta critics, including NAACP President Derek Johnson and former Facebook investor Roger McNamee, have questioned whether the board can really be independent of the company that funds it. They created their own coalition, called the “Real Facebook Oversight Board”.

Meanwhile, some Meta employees, particularly those on the content policy team, were wary of a group of outsiders making binding decisions on company policies, some said.

“Some people were very excited about it,” said one former Metta employee. “Others saw it as an intrusion into the way we've always done business.”

Supporters have touted the oversight board as a model of Internet governance, making decisions that have changed the way the company operates. After the Oversight Board criticized Meta's manipulative media policy in February, for example, the social media company followed the group's recommendations and expanded its AI-labeling strategy to video, audio and images. extended to a wide range.

Board members pushed for transparency, urging the company to publish or share its top-secret list of dangerous organizations and individuals, which users are banned from defining on the platform. For fear of endangering its own employees, Metta did not release the list, but eventually agreed to give the board periodic updates on its contents, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Despite this, the board has also faced criticism from some academics and tech policy analysts for moving slowly, issuing too few consequential decisions with industry-wide implications. The Oversight Board has acknowledged its decisions came after the 90-day deadline, attributing some of the missed deadlines to “staff taking time off during the December holidays” in the 2023 Transparency Report.

Last year, the Oversight Board promised to increase its speed, speeding up some decisions and offering summary judgments, which were made by five-member panels without a full vote. Thorning-Schmidt, a former Danish prime minister, said the board completed more than 50 cases in 2023, surpassing previous years, and is on track to exceed that number in 2024.

“We've always made it clear that we've never been a numbers game,” he told the board, adding that “more and more cases are prioritized that can really show you something about how meta Moderating content.”

Under the microscope

Oversight board leaders have long understood that its reliance on Meta's funding makes it vulnerable.

By 2020, Oversight Board staff began pitching internet platforms with similar free-speech challenges to develop their own content guidelines with the board, people familiar with the matter said. According to a person familiar with the effort, tech companies largely turned down the offer, saying “we don't need to be under the microscope.”

But Meta's own financial situation changed in late 2022, when the collapse of digital advertising prompted the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company to cut thousands of jobs.

According to four people familiar with the matter, Metta signaled to supervisory board leaders that they, too, should streamline spending, meaning the company could not continue funding at its current level. “There is an adjustment in our budget that we believe comes from an adjustment that Meta has made to their budget over the last year,” Thorning-Schmidt said.

Meta director of governance Jennifer Brooksmeyer, who oversees the company's relationship with the board, said the tech giant was a protector of the group's independence and had not pressured it to cut jobs, adding that the company The Board expects to continue to provide financial support in the future.

Meanwhile, the Oversight Board's administration was already working on its second act: helping companies like Meta comply with the DSA, which was first approved in 2022. The board can conduct a risk assessment of online platforms – a risk assessment mandated by law – or create a settlement. The bodies allow consumers to dispute company decisions, people familiar with the matter said.

As the idea for the appeal began, Hughes laid the groundwork with EU regulators who would need to approve the effort. A group of trustees was appointed to oversee the new appeals center, while former executive vice president Amy Studdart was tapped to become interim director. The supervisory board's management is looking for a permanent director while also filling the void left behind by workers laid off in recent months.

DSA made the board's services more attractive to other tech companies. Oversight board administrators touted the group's experience in making unbiased decisions about challenges to moderation of controversial content facing Meta, according to a slide deck pitch seen by The Washington Post.

Participating platforms will benefit from “the Oversight Board's tried and tested knowledge and experience in managing user appeals,” Deck said.

“Meta has previously stated that it supports the board exploring potential alignment with the Digital Services Act and thus a broader segment of the industry,” Broxmeyer said in a statement.

Behind the scenes, the center is controversial. Some members fear that this will shift the thinking of the group from an organization that issues thoughtful policy opinions to pro-forma content moderation decisions for European consumers. It's also unclear whether the new appeals center or another DSA-focused initiative will be enough to fund the organization.

For now, Oversight Board leaders are pleading with employees to be patient as the group works through some of the thorniest questions that lie ahead.

“As we go through this transformation, everyone involved is committed to ensuring that the board is set up for long-term impact as regulation, technology and the geopolitical landscape shape the world around us. has changed,” Studdart wrote in a recent memo to staff. “It requires forward-thinking and skillful leadership, your dedication and expertise, and a long-term commitment from Metta.”

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