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.