Facebook’s Oversight Board Bylaws: For Once, Moving Slowly

from Lawfare

As America’s longest-serving member of Congress once said, “I’ll let you write the substance … and you let me write the procedure, and I’ll screw you every time.”

This wisecrack explains why the newly released bylaws for Facebook’s Oversight Board are important. Facebook announced in 2018 that it would be setting up the board as an independent institution to review the company’s decisions about what is or is not allowed on its services.

Last year, Facebook released its global consultation report and final charter for the board. As I wrote at the time, those documents were high level and vague, and the board’s power would depend on practical and operational matters. (I was invited to a consultation on an earlier version of the bylaws and have participated in several workshops on the board, all unpaid and in my academic capacity.) Now, little by little, Facebook is filling in these details. The bylaws are a substantial step forward in drawing a picture of how the board, which is due to start hearing cases in the first half of this year, may work in practice. Although seemingly technical, they will therefore have a large impact on the substantive work of the board.

The new bylaws include a number of promising signs about Facebook’s commitment to the Oversight Board experiment—not the least of which is the company’s reaffirmed pledge to fund the trust that supports the board for at least six years. But the bylaws also betray an uncharacteristically incremental approach from Facebook: The board’s original ambit of operations will be fairly limited, and although the bylaws promise to ramp up the board’s power “in the future,” there are no firm timelines.

At 46 pages, the bylaws are full of procedural rules that will no doubt become important once the board starts working. Here, I examine some of the key new details.

More here.

Posted in Social Media and tagged , , .


  1. Once again, it is no surprise Facebook is at the head of another controversy regarding its platform, this time however over the recently drafted bylaws for Facebook’s new Oversight Board. The main issue this time once again about Facebook’s vagueness and the uncertainty surrounding most of their actions. With the release of these bylaws, many are still scratching their heads at the scope of this Oversight Board. It honestly seems like a phony ploy to keep angry customers and feds off of their back, as the bylaws have not even set a date for the Board to begin operating, just “in the future” and that the timeline will be “subject to Facebook’s technical and procedural improvements”. The document that will charter this board is filled with many loopholes and interesting tid-bits, such as a loophole that would allow the board to downrank posts instead of outright removing them. Facebook has been airing on the side of free speech and expression over censorship, which is the big question in this entire situation; should Facebook be allowed to remove posts? On many occasions Facebook has left up posts that were controversial, defamatory, and even posts connected with hate speech. But Facebook stands by it’s commitment to free expression, and because of this there is lots of tension between users and the company.
    Along with the vagueness and uncertainty around the board, many are concerned with the procedural guidelines given in the bylaws, questioning how their deadlines and time constraints on cases will work from case to case. It is uncertain until the Oversight Board is created and starts acting what the influence and scope of the board will be on the Facebook platform itself. Again, Facebook stands by its stance on free speech and expression and does not wish to suppress or challenge that in most cases. Most users have been complaining about ads, such as the fish-type ads that do not pass a fact check or even political advertisements. Facebook has had a few experiences with being accused of targeting users and giving information on users out to third party companies.

  2. It is definite progress to introduce an Oversight Board to the Facebook empire. But there are multiple issues with the approach given in this article. The vagueness of the Oversight Board’s power and by-laws makes it seem as though it is merely a front to placate the public who disagree with Facebook’s abundance of controversial decisions. Instead of placing a powerful black and white description of by-laws with exact deadlines and assessment procedures, Facebook purposely limits the power of the board under the false pretense of having grand oversight. The vague description of by-laws is contradictory of their methodical and precise acquisition strategy that is widely known.
    It is also good to remember that Oversight Boards, although stated to be independent can still be politically swayed to act on behalf of interested parties, including Facebook themselves. According to Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, “The ability of the board or a committee to perform its oversight role is, to a large extent, dependent upon the relationship and the flow of information among the directors, senior management and other senior risk managers in the company. If directors do not believe they are receiving sufficient information, they should be proactive in asking for more. High-quality, timely and credible information provides the foundation for effective responses and decision-making by the board,” https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2019/11/20/risk-management-and-the-board-of-directors-7/ .
    This proves to be an issue when Facebook could easily withhold information based on their legal and technical stance. Facebook can also inundate the board with an extraordinary amount of cases to analyze and provide a decision on. Stated perfectly in the article, “For the board to work, all participants will need to act in good faith. The bylaws are a big step forward in showing more detail about how the board will operate. But as the various crises around the world right now suggest, written rules get you only so far—and unwritten norms are crucial too, “https://www.lawfareblog.com/facebooks-oversight-board-bylaws-once-moving-slowly . So, yes the introduction of an independent Oversight Committee is a great first step, that is as far as it may go considering the powerhouse it is overseeing.

  3. This article outlines the new bylaws that Facebook’s oversight board has recently released. Which as Facebook stated would review the companies decisions and what is or is not allowed to be apart of is services. However, the documents outlines these objectives were deemed very vague and high level. Which would make the boards powers dependent on situations and be on a case to case basis. This as one of the members of congress had said “I’ll let you write the substance of the laws and you let me write the procedure, and I’ll screw you every time.” This meaning that the way that Facebook has set up their board according to their by laws they are allowed to practically do anything that want, because they are allowed to choose and change the procedure for everything and every case that is presented to them, and rule upon a case to case basis. This would then have the negative effects of creating no precedent from previous decisions and also the freedom to choose the outcome that suits them best in each scenario. Since the bylaws were left as vague as they were, almost everything is under their jurisdiction according to the wording of the laws, giving them unlimited power in this section. There are also many loopholes in these bylaws that the author outlines on important one being “a loophole through which to avoid board oversight: the platform can simply downrank hard cases rather than taking them down completely.” All of these bylaws just give the company more powers than they have had in the past and do nothing in the department of ‘oversight’, once again giving more power to social media companies over the data of everyone.

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