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17 Mar 2021

Jeremy Lewin, The Guardian

Commentary: Facebook's long-awaited oversight board is a clever sham

... Sometimes described as Facebook’s “supreme court”, the oversight board has been met, in the legal and academic worlds, mostly with wonder, excitement and praise. Giving predominantly legal scholars input on the content moderation of the world’s largest social media platform seems like a positive step for social media governance.

But behind the gloss, Facebook’s experiment is intended to foster anything but genuine accountability. It is a clever obfuscation offering Facebook cover to engage in socially irresponsible profit-seeking that would be publicly reviled were it more transparent.

The trick is simple. Facebook faces a problem of two-sided economic incentives: dangerous and socially objectionable content is genuinely valuable to its bottom line, but so is the public perception that it’s proactively committed to maintaining a socially responsible and safe community. It designed the oversight board to escape this double-bind. Oversight by a legalistic body with the appearance of neutrality earns Facebook public goodwill and deflects blame for lax content moderation. But in designing the structure of the body itself, Facebook has virtually ensured certain financially beneficial outcomes: maximum content, even the dangerous and harmful, left online. The result is a win-win for Facebook. The platform keeps valuable content while heaping social culpability on an external body. Already, the board is showing these true colors.