Facebook is under fire for failing to give its “supreme court” sufficient power to force change after figures showed the company had implemented just a sixth of recent recommendations from the self-regulatory body.
Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook and vocal critic, said the social media giant now known as Meta had set up the Oversight Board to “deflect criticism”, but that it had given it "gravitas without having any actual power".
The board, launched in 2019 and promoted by its policy chief, Sir Nick Clegg, is made up of a collection of academics and human rights experts meant to keep the company in check.
It assesses controversial moderation cases and makes recommendations ranging from better explaining why users have been punished for breaking Facebook’s rules to translating its rules into more languages.
However, it has emerged that just 12 of the 69 recommendations from the Oversight Board in the last six months have been fully implemented.
Mr McNamee said the board was "entirely dependent on Facebook, both for resources, and for follow through on any recommendations it may make. To the extent Facebook doesn’t feel like implementing a change, there’s no chance it will be implemented."
Facebook said it was struggling to keep up with a flurry of recommendations from the board. “The pace and volume of the recommendations do not allow us adequate time to initially assess and implement [them].”
The board’s members include the former Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former Danish prime minister.
Facebook Oversight Board members (UPDATED May 5 2021)
While its recommendations are not binding, they are seen as a way for the company to demonstrate it is responding to concerns in the absence of social media regulation. It is supposed to respond to the board within 30 days.
Facebook said it was often unable to meet this deadline. “The majority of these recommendations require over a dozen people to assess feasibility, which we cannot easily complete in 30 days,” its report said.
“This difficulty is further compounded by our need to incorporate the recommendations into existing initiatives and priorities, such as those reflected in our integrity and related product teams’ ‘roadmaps’.”
The response came under fire from Christina O’Connell, campaigns adviser for activist group SumOfUs.
“It’s telling that Facebook is complaining about the workload right after the Oversight Board they created and funded went public with the news that Facebook has not fully cooperated with their requests for information," she said.
"If Facebook won’t even be transparent with their own Oversight Board, the Board should resign. And if Facebook cannot manage this basic request, perhaps it’s time to bring in independent management that can – or break the company up.”
The Oversight Board also called for Facebook to improve how it answers the board. “The Oversight Board is working with Meta to strengthen the company’s implementation of our recommendations, as we push them to provide greater transparency about their content moderation and to treat all users fairly,” it said.
“We’ve made over 70 recommendations to date to Meta, the majority of which they’ve committed to, but there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. We’re closely monitoring how the company responds to our recommendations, and will continue to publicly report on how we view Meta’s progress in implementing these.”
Facebook said of the 69 recommendations, 12 had been fully implemented, 11 were in the process of being fully implemented, 12 had been implemented in part and in 17 cases the company was “assessing feasibility”. In 13 cases it said the company already does what was recommended, and in four cases it was taking no action.
For example, it said it was taking no action on a recommendation that it publish a list of “dangerous” organisations and individuals, saying this could endanger staff.
Damian Collins, the MP chairing the parliamentary committee overseeing the online safety bill, said: “If Facebook can’t respond to the requests from it’s own Oversight Board it is going to get a massive shock when the Online Safety Bill becomes law. Then an independent regulator will be able to access the kind of information and reports that Facebook hides from its Oversight Board.
“The independent regulator will also be able to require effective enforcement against illegal and harmful content and make sure that Facebook delivers against its own terms of service. The Oversight Board can’t do this but Facebook still can’t even keep up with its requests. This is why change is needed now.”