E&C Leaders Concerned by Facebook Oversight Board’s Limited Authority Urge Board Members to Exert Pressure to Change Facebook’s Harmful Policies
Aug 11, 2020
“We believe the Oversight Board will be unable to address the damage Facebook is inflicting on society unless Facebook itself amends its content policies or empowers a truly independent Oversight Board”
Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) today voiced concern that Facebook’s new Oversight Board does not have the power it needs to change Facebook’s harmful policies. In letters to the 20 Board Members, the three Committee leaders encouraged the newly appointed members to exert pressure on Facebook to listen to and act upon their policy recommendations, something that is not currently included in the Board Members’ overall responsibilities.
“We are concerned that Facebook’s Oversight Board — and its members — may be ill-equipped and ill-empowered to meaningfully improve the incredibly troubling behavior of the company and may simply act as a smokescreen behind which Facebook’s executives will maintain ultimate control over its content moderation decision-making process,” Pallone, Doyle and Schakowsky wrote in their letter to each of the Oversight Board Members.
The Committee leaders outlined the board’s powers as defined by the Charter of the Oversight Board and voiced concern that these powers limit the Oversight Board to merely enforcing current content policies in light of Facebook’s articulated values. Ultimately, the three Chairs fear that this limitation means the Oversight Board will be restrained by the content policies set by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“The Oversight Board is intended only to apply the content policies Facebook has adopted, and we worry Facebook’s business model disincentivizes the adoption of content policies that would promote a healthy online environment,” Pallone, Doyle and Schakowsky continued in their letter. “For that reason, we believe the Oversight Board will be unable to address the damage Facebook is inflicting on society unless Facebook itself amends its content policies or empowers a truly independent Oversight Board to render binding decisions that cannot be overruled by Mark Zuckerberg or his subordinates.”
The Committee leaders believe Facebook is intentionally amplifying divisive and conspiratorial content because such content attracts more customer usage and, with it, advertising revenue. Pallone, Doyle and Schakowsky were also troubled by recent reports that Facebook had an opportunity to retune its systems responsible for the amplification of this content, but chose not to.
“If this Oversight Board is going to have any real power, Facebook itself is going to need to listen to and then act upon the Board’s policy recommendations,” the three Committee leaders continued in their letter to the Oversight Board members. “To that end, we believe you have the duty to use your position on the Oversight Board to pressure Facebook to change policies that you believe are not working, and if Facebook refuses to address your concerns, to resign.”
The three Committee leaders wrote that the public interest should be the Oversight Board’s priority and that it should not be influenced by the profit motives of Facebook executives. Pallone, Doyle and Schakowsky also requested the board members answer a series of questions in the coming weeks.
Identical letters were sent to co-chairs Catalina Botero-Marino, Jamal Greene, Michael McConnell and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, as well as the remaining 16 board members:
- Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei
- Evelyn Aswad
- Endy Baynui
- Katherine Chen
- Nighat Dad
- Pamela Karlan
- Tawakkol Karman
- Maina Kiai
- Sudhir Krishnaswamy
- Ronaldo Lemos
- Julie Owono
- Emi Palmor
- Alan Rusbridger
- Andras Sajo
- John Samples
- Nicolas Suzor