Facebook will create an independent oversight group to review content moderation appeals

By Casey Newton

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook will create an independent oversight body to adjudicate appeals on content moderation issues, the company said today. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a call with reporters that the group, which will be formed in the next year, will attempt to balance an effort to expand the right to free speech with the need to keep people safe around the world.

“I believe independence is important for a few reasons,” Zuckerberg said in a note posted to Facebook. “First, it will prevent the concentration of too much decision-making within our teams. Second, it will create accountability and oversight. Third, it will provide assurance that these decisions are made in the best interests of our community and not for commercial reasons.”

Zuckerberg’s announcement comes several months after he told Ezra Klein in a podcast that Facebook might one day need an analog to the Supreme Court for adjudicating important decisions about content moderation. One of the core ideas was to be able to better adapt decisions to local norms and laws about speech, which vary widely around the world.

Details about the independent body are still scarce, but the company’s goal is to have the body established by the end of 2019.

Zuckerberg writes: “Starting today, we’re beginning a consultation period to address the hardest questions, such as: how are members of the body selected? How do we ensure their independence from Facebook, but also their commitment to the principles they must uphold? How do people petition this body? How does the body pick which cases to hear from potentially millions of requests? As part of this consultation period, we will begin piloting these ideas in different regions of the world in the first half of 2019, with the aim of establishing this independent body by the end of the year.”

During the call, I asked Zuckerberg for a few more details about how the body might work. He said it would likely be asked to choose high-profile or important cases, in the manner of appeals courts in the United States. He also suggested they would likely publish their decisions, creating a kind of case law around Facebook policies.

Another reporter asked about what kind of expertise members of the board should have. Zuckerberg said the board needed to be independent but also supportive of Facebook’s principles. The company plans to rely heavily on external input to shape those decisions, he said.

Update, 3:30 p.m.: This article has been updated to include new information from the press call.