One Year On: A Human Rights Review of the Oversight Board

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December 21, 2020
  • Dunstan Allison-Hope portrait

    Dunstan Allison-Hope

    Senior Advisor, BSR

Facebook makes decisions to take down, leave up, or restore content every day. Some of these decisions can be very challenging, with strong arguments for either removing or leaving up the content. Many users can disagree with these decisions, and millions are appealed each year.

With over two billion users worldwide, it has become increasingly important that Facebook does not make these content moderation decisions alone. For this reason, the Oversight Board was launched in 2020 to help Facebook answer some of the most difficult questions around what to take down, what to leave up, and why.

It is also crucial that these decisions respect internationally recognized human rights standards—which is why Facebook commissioned an independent human rights review from BSR to inform the Oversight Board’s creation. In our human rights review, which was published in full last December, we made 34 recommendations for how the governance and operations of the Oversight Board could be made consistent with human rights-based approaches, principles, standards, and methodologies.

Earlier this month, the Oversight Board announced its first cases. Alongside this key milestone, the Oversight Board commissioned BSR to undertake an independent gap analysis to compare the final Oversight Board charter, bylaws, and operating procedures with our original recommendations. This gap analysis is being published today.

The Oversight Board is unlike anything previously created by a company—to our knowledge, no company in any industry has ever established an oversight mechanism with binding decision-making power. Moreover, while efforts to provide access to remedy in other industries are typically designed to meet the needs of a bounded number of rightsholders, based in clearly defined geographical areas and speaking a limited number of languages, the Oversight Board is designed to meet the needs of billions of rightsholders, who could be anywhere in the world and who may speak any language.

The original BSR human rights review of the Oversight Board addressed these twin challenges of novelty and scale by acknowledging the significant operational challenges the Oversight Board will face and the reality that lessons will be learned over time.

One year after our original review, our newly published gap analysis shows that the Oversight Board is making good progress on this long-term journey. Specifically, we conclude that of BSR’s original 34 recommendations, 17 are benefiting from good progress, nine are benefiting from partial progress, five are not yet determined, and three are not yet addressed. We make the following observations:

  • Taken in combination, the Oversight Board’s governing documents provide an increasingly valuable framework for a taking human rights-based approach to content decisions. The documents could provide additional clarity with more direct reference to the International Bill of Human Rights and other relevant international human rights instruments.
  • The commitments to transparency in the Oversight Board’s governing documents are strong, such as the pledge to communicate the Board’s decisions publicly and publishing an annual report with a review of human rights impacts. These will be important channels for stakeholders to track and review progress on human rights over time once the Oversight Board begins operating.
  • Many of BSR's recommendations focused on the Oversight Board being accessible, predictable, and equitable, and the true judge of this will not be this gap analysis but the perspectives of stakeholders with direct experience engaging with the Oversight Board. For this reason, once the Oversight Board has been operational for a longer period, we recommend a progress review using methods that involve meaningful engagement with affected stakeholders, especially individuals from groups or populations that may be at heightened risk of becoming vulnerable or marginalized. We believe it will be especially important for this review to consider support users may need (such as a “user advocate”) to navigate the Oversight Board process effectively and equitably.

While BSR’s recommendations are specific to the Oversight Board, we continue to hope that they will provide considerable value to other companies, civil society organizations, governments, and intergovernmental organizations seeking to define human rights-based approaches to content governance, accountability, and access to remedy.

BSR recognizes the Oversight Board’s commitment to transparency about its progress on human rights, and we look forward to further engagement as further insights are gained from real life practice.


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