Facebook pledges $130 million to content oversight board, delays naming members

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook said on Thursday it committed an initial $130 million to fund an independent oversight board, but said it would not announce its members this year, as originally expected.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of a Facebook logo, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

The board will be able to make final decisions on whether individual pieces of content - such as a sensitive video or ad - should be displayed on the site, even over-ruling Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.

The board is one of Facebook’s high-profile efforts to respond to criticism over how it handles problematic content and transparency around its decision-making. It also released an assessment on the human rights impacts of content decisions by the board.

However, the board’s creation is behind schedule, the company confirmed in a blog post. Facebook will probably not name the board’s co-chairs and first members until after January 2020.

Brent Harris, Facebook’s head of governance and global affairs, said the delays were due to both the unforeseen complexities of creating a trust to ensure the board’s independence and to the task of reducing more than 1,000 nominees to no more than about 40.

“This is not a ‘move fast and break things’ project,” Harris told Reuters by telephone, referring to the social media network’s early motto.

He said the recommended members had come through Facebook’s global consultation process in 88 countries, as well as the company’s public online portal, which opened in September.

They range from “former heads of state to Nobel Prize winners to people who moderate groups on Facebook to local judges,” Harris said.

Facebook plans to announce the board’s co-chairs, likely to number three, he said, and a first set of about 20 members after January.

Both Facebook and its users can submit cases to the board, and while it cannot make policy, Facebook will be required to respond publicly to any recommendations.

“The board is an actual institution; it’s almost like its own start-up and it needs all the things that new institutions need” such as a legal team and recruiting mechanisms, said Heather Moore, a member of the Facebook team who developed the board’s charter.

The social media giant said the $130 million should cover operational costs for at least six years.

Kate Klonick, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University whom Facebook allowed to observe the process of establishing the board, said that while she was disappointed by the timeline, the scale of funding was positive.

“The fact they announced this commitment of money is an enormous sign of how important it’s going to be,” Klonick told Reuters.

Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Dan Grebler