Facebook has announced that the limp â€œOversight Boardâ€ intended to help make difficult content and policy decisions will not launch until â€œlate fall,â€ which is to say, almost certainly after the election. You know, the election everyone is worried Facebookâ€™s inability to police itself will serious affect.
On Twitter, the board explained that as much as it would like to â€œofficially begin our task of providing independent oversight of Facebookâ€™s content decisions,â€ it regrets that it will be unable to do so for some time. â€œOur focus is on building a strong institution that will deliver concrete results over the long term.â€
That sounds well enough, but for many, the entire point of creating the oversight board â€” which has been in the offing since late 2018 â€” was to equip Facebook for the coming Presidential election, which promises to be something of a hot one.
As my colleague Natasha Lomas described the board when it was officially announced:
The Oversight Board is intended to sit atop the daily grind of Facebook content moderation, which takes place behind closed doors and signed NDAs, where outsourced armies of contractors are paid to eyeball the running sewer of hate, abuse and violence so actual users donâ€™t have to, as a more visible mechanism for resolving and thus (Facebook hopes) quelling speech-related disputes.
But as we soon found out, the board would have nothing to do with what many would call the most dangerous content on Facebook: fast-spreading misinformation. The board will for now primarily concern itself with disputed takedowns of content, not simply disputed content. On many matters its decisions will be merely advisory.
Facebook has taken a relatively laissez-faire attitude towards manipulated media, deliberate misinformation, misleading political ads and other troubling content, and executives including Mark Zuckerberg have regularly reinforced that attitude.
An attempt to hit the company in its wallet has proven unexpectedly successful, with many large companies pledging to at least temporarily advertising from Facebook to protest these policies. Coca-Cola, Ford, REI, and even TechCrunchâ€™s parent company Verizon have signed on to #StopHateforProfit. Facebook met with representatives of the effort today and the latter were, predictably, disappointed.
â€œToday we saw little and heard just about nothing,â€ said Anti-Defamation Leagueâ€™s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said. It seems that Facebook does not consider the present pecuniary punishment heavy enough to warrant a serious response.
The delay of the Oversight Board, even the defanged one being promised, is just one more straw on the camelâ€™s back.