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Facebook’s Oversight Board won’t launch in time to oversee the election — and activists aren’t happy

Facebook’s Oversight Board won’t launch in time to oversee the election — and activists aren’t happy


‘This is an emergency response’

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Illustration by William Joel / The Verge

It’s been more than a year since Facebook pledged to launch its independent Oversight Board — but with the US election approaching fast, tech critics are getting antsy.

On Friday, a coalition of academics and legal experts announced the formation of the “Real Facebook Oversight Board,” an informal group that will publicly call out Facebook’s slow action in advance of the election, including early Facebook investor Roger McNamee and Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff. The group also includes leaders of the #StopHateForProfit campaign, which organized a boycott by Facebook advertisers earlier this year.

“a roiling cauldron of lies, violence and danger”

The group plans to hold regular “board meetings” to discuss failures of platform policy, with the first scheduled to be hosted by Kara Swisher on October 1. In a statement, Zuboff described Facebook as “a roiling cauldron of lies, violence and danger destabilizing elections and democratic governance around the world.”

The group also include Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr, known for her work on the Cambridge Analytica story. “This is an emergency response,” Cadwalladr told NBC News this morning. “We know there are going to be a series of incidents leading up to the election and beyond in which Facebook is crucial.”

The board will hold no power and is largely meant as a symbolic gesture. Still, it has placed new pressure on Facebook’s Oversight Board, which was initially scheduled for launch this summer. Oversight Board members now estimate that the project will launch in October. That will be too late to hear cases related to the US election, given the months-long process for fully adjudicating a case.

“We are currently testing the newly deployed technical systems that will allow users to appeal and the Board to review cases,” the Oversight Board said. “Assuming those tests go to plan, we expect to open user appeals in mid to late October. Building a process that is thorough, principled and globally effective takes time and our members have been working aggressively to launch as soon as possible.”

Still, the delay has brought forth a new wave of skepticism about the project.

Accountable Tech, a nonprofit that has long criticized Facebook for its moderation failures, said the failure to oversee campaign content underscored the broader failure of the project. “If Oversight Board members want to enact meaningful change, rather than continuing to prop up Facebook’s Potemkin court, they should demand real authority or resign and speak out,” the group said in a statement.