Alan Rusbridger, Principal of Lady Margaret Hall and former Guardian editor, has been selected as one of 20 members on Facebook’s new independent oversight board.  

Two years after Mark Zuckerberg announced his intention to create a structure to moderate content, Facebook has named its first 20 members. Alan Rusbridger will sit on a panel which includes Yemeni Nobel Laureate and free speech advocate Tawakkol Karman and Stanford law professors Pamela Karlan and Michael McConnell. 

The board will rule on the thin line between hate speech and free speech, reviewing the most controversial decisions on whether to leave or take down polarising content on Facebook and Instagram. It will also act in a “Supreme Court” like capacity to hear appeals from users on material that Facebook has removed. 

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Facebook moderators will continue to use their combination of computer algorithms and human input for general rule enforcement, only employing the board on matters of high importance. 

The board is empowered to overrule Facebook executives and moderators on content issues, and its decisions will be binding unless implementation risks violating the law. 

Speaking to Cherwell, Alan Rusbridger said: “The pandemic is a stark realisation that unless you can agree on facts, and that there are such things as facts, running society becomes very difficult.”

Rusbridger did not underestimate the enormous scale of this challenge. He made clear that this is not “a magistrates court”, hearing every issue, but rather an attempt to pull together big themes, in the hope that “over time we will get to grips with the patterns of behaviour that most disturb people, and our rulings will set a clearer template for Facebook to make decisions.”

He described “the chaos of information, where even the most powerful politician in the world spends his time trying to blur the boundaries between facts and fantasy. There is no getting away from the fact that social media has been a big part in this. This has become one of the most urgent problems facing the world at the moment.”

The announcement comes as research conducted by Avaaz reveals that 40% of misinformation surrounding Covid-19 was found on Facebook, prompting the company to direct users viewing false news to the World Health Organisation website. 

Michael McConnell, one of the four co-chairs of the new board, said: “It is our ambition and goal that Facebook not decide elections, not be a force for one point of view over another, but the same rules will apply to people of left, right and centre.”

Tackling misinformation on Facebook, on a part-time basis of only 15 hours a month, poses a considerable challenge. In the coming months, the board will begin with “dozens” of cases, reviewed on an individual basis, out of the millions posted every hour. Moderating online content will be further complicated by Facebook rules differing according to the laws of each specific country. 

Facebook has invested $130 million in this oversight board over the next six years, during which time the number of members will double. The co-chairs will collaborate with Facebook in selecting the next 20 members, and then Facebook will withdraw to leave the board to determine its composition independently. 

Image Credit to:Alessio Jacona/commons.wikimedia/CC BY-SA 2.0