Facebook Pledges $130 Million to Fund Content Oversight Board as It Hits Delays

Facebook announced an initial commitment of $130 million to launch its new Oversight Board, which is designed as a way for users to appeal the social giant’s content decisions, but the entity is behind schedule with initial board members to be announced in 2020.

The Oversight Board — which has been dubbed Facebook’s “Supreme Court” — will have the ability to make binding decisions independently of CEO Mark Zuckerberg or anyone else at Facebook. It’s set to launch in the first half of 2020, comprised of staff and board members independent of the company.

The Oversight Board will provide a way for users to appeal decisions about Facebook’s enforcement of community standards, which prohibit activity and content like violence and criminal behavior, pornography and other objectionable content and behavior, as well as ads on the service.

Originally, Facebook had planned to announce co-chairs and initial members of the Oversight Board this year, but that has been delayed to 2020 as the company has been vetting some 1,000 candidates for up to 40 spots on the board.

According to Facebook, the initial funding will cover operational costs such as staff, office space and travel expenses, and should allow the board to operate for about six years — at least its first two full terms. The company intends to fund the Oversight Board in the future.

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While Facebook has taken pains to ensure the Oversight Board will operate without interference from the company itself, critics have questioned how effective or truly independent it will be in practice. The $130 million earmarked for the Oversight Board’s operations represents around 2% of Facebook’s net profit for the third quarter of 2019 alone.

Facebook is setting up the so-called Supreme Court in an effort to show it’s a good corporate citizen — to build user trust and ultimately to try forestall heavy-handed government action against it. Zuckerberg has called for new laws spelling out how speech on internet platforms should be regulated, while he’s also repeatedly insisted that breaking up Facebook would not fix problems with social media. The CEO recently told employees that an Elizabeth Warren presidency would “suck” for the tech giant — as she’s made breaking up internet companies a key part of her platform — and that the company would “go to the mat” to fight attempts to dismantle Facebook.

Now Facebook has announced the formation of an Oversight Board Trust, a further step to “ensure the board can safeguard its ability to make independent decisions and recommendations,” Brent Harris, director of governance and global affairs, wrote in a blog post Thursday.

The Oversight Board Trust was created as a “non-charitable purpose trust” under Delaware law. Facebook also released the trust documents, which include both a Trust Agreement and an LLC Operating Agreement that will facilitate contracts with board members and employ staff.

The trust will formally appoint and remove board members (according to forthcoming bylaws and code of conduct) and will have at least three individual trustees and one corporate trustee, Brown Brothers Harriman Trust Co. Facebook is currently conducting a search for the board’s individual trustees, in collaboration with executive search firm Spencer Stuart.

In addition, Facebook announced a new plan to factor in human rights into the functioning of the Oversight Board. According to Harris, Facebook worked with BSR, an independent nonprofit organization with expertise in human rights practices and policies, to commission a “Human Rights Impact Review” to help understand how best to structure the Oversight Board so that it “respects and promotes human rights.”

Facebook’s Harris said the initial funding for the Oversight Board and any future funding will be available “at the discretion of the trust and the board, and they are separate from the investments Facebook has already made to run the year-long global consultation, develop new infrastructure and tools to support the board’s operations, and otherwise plan for the board’s establishment.”

Earlier this year, Facebook released a charter document outlining more details on the structure of the Oversight Board, which it has been developing over the past year. According to the company, the board will have 11-40 members, each serving three-year terms in a part-time capacity. The board will have the ability to make decisions about specific cases but will not be able to change Facebook’s policies (although it can issue policy recommendations for the company to consider).

The board will have its own staff, independent from Facebook. To start, that’s expected to include a director, case managers and dedicated staff members (or contracted services) who can support things such as the board’s communications, legal, human resources and research needs, according to Facebook’s Harris.

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