SAN FRANCISCO – Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and the former special rapporteur for freedom of expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Catalina Botero Marino, will be part of the “Supreme Court” that will moderate content on Facebook and Instagram, the company announced on Wednesday.
Thorning-Schmidt and Colombia’s Botero will head, along with two US law professors – Michael McConnell and Jamal Greene – a team that initially will be made up to 20 people and which will be the court of last resort in deciding which content may be published and which may not on the social networks.
This type of high court, to which any user may turn after their case has gone through all lower levels within Facebook, will begin hearing cases “in the coming months,” will operate independently of the firm and its decisions will be “binding.”
Thorning-Schmidt, a member of the Danish social democratic party, was premier of the Scandinavian nation from 2011-2015 and since 2016 she has been the head of the non-profit organization Save The Children, which focuses on the fight against childhood poverty.
Meanwhile, Botero is the dean of the law school at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota and from 2008-2014 she was the special rapporteur for freedom of expression within the IACHR, an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States.
Thorning-Schmidt and Botero on Wednesday offered a joint telephone press conference with McConnell and Greene, and they said that the “supervisory board” – as the court has been dubbed – will operate absolutely independently from Facebook.
“It was a question of choosing people with character – people who are capable of saying no to the company, who don’t want to please the company but whose only duty is to the users and the principles we believe in,” said Botero, adding that Facebook has promised to abide by the board’s decisions and, if it does not, because those decisions will be made public it could suffer a very high cost to its reputation.
The creation of an independent supervisory board was announced in 2018 by Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to provide a response to criticism of abuse of power by the world’s biggest social network platform and arbitrariness in the monitoring and moderation of content.
Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) have usage guidelines that limit what content can be shared on the platform – for instance, messages inciting violence, sexually explicit images and other such content are prohibited – and when the firm feels that these rules have been violated it can remove the offensive content.
However, the inevitably subjective nature of many of these decisions has made many users feel that the firm is merely limiting content according to its own discretion and not by adhering to strict standards.
Currently, when a user removes a message they have shared on Facebook or Instagram because human or artificial intelligence observers determine that it violates the usage rules, they can appeal the decision and a new “court” can consider it, but that has always been handled within the company, until now.
The idea of the supervisory board is, once this lower-level appeals route has been exhausted, to provide a forum whereby users who feel their content has been banned unjustly may turn to this ultimate arbiter, whose ruling will be final for Facebook except if implementing it would be against the law.
When each case is considered and a decision is rendered, the board will take into account both the company’s usage policies and “international human rights norms” governing freedom of expression, as well as “the impact on users and society.”
To guarantee the cultural diversity and the experience of the board members, the 20 members (although in the future it will be expanded to 40 members) come from the US and Canada (25%), Latin America and the Caribbean (10%), Europe (20%), Asia and Oceania (25%) and Africa (20%).
Facebook has allocated an irrevocable $130 million fund for the operation of the board, and its members (who are not employees of Facebook or of the board itself) will receive economic compensation and will be required to devote themselves only part-time to their board duties.