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Facebook succeeds in bringing together twenty members for its “supreme court”

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, president of the NGO Save the shildren and former Prime Minister of Denmark, at the economic forum in Davos (Switzerland), in 2017. Ruben Sprich / REUTERS

This is a small victory for Facebook in an unprecedented project: the platform has managed to convince twenty personalities, some of whom are quite prestigious, to sit in its ” Supreme Court “ content moderation. Officially called ” Supervisory Board “, this structure external to the company will be responsible for deciding, a posteriori, the thorniest cases of withdrawals of publications on the social network and on Instagram. She will make her first decisions “Before the end of 2020”.

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Among the most prominent members is Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former Prime Minister of Denmark and president of the Save the Children non-governmental organization (NGO), who will be one of the four co-chairs. But also the Briton Alan Rusbridger, known for his long term as managing editor of the daily The Guardian, Yemeni Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights activist, Hungarian Andras Sajo, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights or the American Michael McConnell, professor of constitutional law at Stanford University, former judge and also co-president of the structure.

A member is French: Julie Owono, director of Internet without borders, an association and an international network of “Defense of digital rights and freedoms and the fight against all forms of censorship on connected networks”.

Legal specialists, journalists…

Facebook and the four co-chairs of this “court” have chosen several profiles of legal specialists (Jamal Greene, co-chair, and professor at Columbia University, or Pamela Karlan, professor at Stanford University…), journalists (Endy Bayuni , former editor-in-chief of the Indonesian daily newspaper The Jakarta Post…), Human rights specialists or members of the voluntary sector (Catalina Botero Marino, co-chair and professor of law at the University of the Andes, in Colombia, Maina Kiai, former head of Human Rights Watch partnerships and activist in Kenya… ), as well as former public officials (Emi Palmor, former director general of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, etc.).

These people will meet in panels of five members to decide on appeal cases disputed by users or suggested by Facebook

The twenty members have lived in 27 countries and speak 29 languages, welcomes Facebook. Twenty other members will be selected in the coming months.

These people will meet in panels of five members to decide on appeal cases disputed by users or suggested by Facebook: they will choose the cases that will have an impact on the largest number of users, or those likely to change the moderation policy. from Facebook, said McConnell. The social network is committed to applying all decisions made on specific content and to giving a reasoned response to its recommendations on moderation rules.

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Mark Zuckerberg launched the idea of ​​this external “court” in 2018 to try to relieve Facebook of part of the media and political pressure generated by the many decisions made on content: on the videos manipulated, like that of the manager American democrat Nancy Pelosi, on advertisements of politicians containing false information, on “fake news” in general, on content advocating white supremacism, on nudity images … The social network is commonly accused of being too lax or censor.

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An “independent structure”

Aligning twenty member names is a relative success for Facebook, after months of consultations and sometimes dizzying debates. In comparison, another of its innovative projects, the digital currency Libra, is encountering great difficulties. And Google, in 2019, had to give up setting up its ethics committee on artificial intelligence, following a controversy over some of its members.

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The supervisory board is not yet out of the woods, however. In addition to recruiting future members, he will have to prove his freedom from Facebook. “The novelty is that the structure is independent, we cannot be removed by Facebook. And some of us have already been critical of Facebook “, said Greene.

This unprecedented body could be a counterweight to Facebook, but also a form of global legal body and potentially competing with national regulations on social networks

Other questions remain unanswered. Will the court be sufficiently knowledgeable about the local cultural context of the content, while sometimes none of its members will be from the country in question? Each panel will contain a person from the “region” concerned and may call on local experts to inform them if they wish, said Mme Thorning-Schmidt.

We can also wonder about the slight overrepresentation of the United States (five members out of twenty), while 85% of Facebook members do not live there. Or the place that the American concept of freedom of expression, or “freedom of speech”, will have. On the governance side, this new body could prove to be a counterweight to Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, but also a form of global legal body and potentially competing with national regulations on social networks.

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The question of its perimeter also arises: it may include content from Facebook groups but not from the Whatsapp network, whose messages are encrypted. “But Facebook is committed to expanding, in the long term, the scope of the type of content concerned”, says Greene. The Briton Thomas Hughes, the head of the structure that finances the court and provides its logistical support, plans that one day it will open up to the content of other social networks, such as Twitter or Snapchat. “But right now we have a lot to do with Facebook,” he recognized.

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