Facebook’s Oversight Board, a group of supposedly independent experts that has the power to intervene and hand down decisions when they feel Facebook has misjudged, is either a nominal check on the social media company’s unending excesses or a feckless exercise in corporate blame-shifting. Either way, Facebook claims that it just can’t keep up with the changes that are needed as the board issues its recommendations.
As previously flagged by Protocol, on Tuesday Facebook (which is now calling itself Meta) released a report concluding that it is having trouble keeping up with the non-binding recommendations from the board, which are separate from the board’s binding rulings on specific moderation decisions made by Facebook moderators. While Facebook is supposed to respond to each and every recommendation issued by the Oversight Board within 30 days, Facebook admitted it is nowhere near that goal. Of the 69 non-binding recommendations issued by the Oversight Board in the last two quarters (including two carried over from the first quarter), Facebook has fully implemented just 12 of them, is in the process of fully implementing 11 more, is partially implementing 12, and is assessing the feasibility of 17. It concluded that it “already does” what was recommended in 13 cases, and it has declined to take action in four situations.
Facebook wrote in the report that its teams “assess and respond to anywhere from 5 to 35 recommendations at any one point in time,” and assessing feasibility for each of these recommendations generally requires over a dozen staffers. (Facebook has around 58,000 employees according to Statista) That means that the company is struggling to meet the 30-day deadline, it said. The report also states that Facebook is made of interconnected moving parts and any significant change “requires making trade-offs and prioritizing among multiple, competing initiatives,” which only happens every six months.
Additionally, the report complains that “formalized, written exchanges” between Facebook and the Oversight Board are cumbersome and unwieldy and that it needs a better way to communicate—such as Q&A sessions between board members and Facebook representatives. Facebook wrote in the report that it is partnering with another organization called Business for Social Responsibility “to study and explore options for our ongoing interactions with the board.” If the company seeks to make any changes such as extending the 30-day deadlines or simply viewing it as more of a guideline than a bylaw, it’s not clear how much say the Oversight Board has in the matter, Protocol noted.
The lumbering nature of the Facebook goliath has been highlighted by massive leaks of internal documents by whistleblower and former Facebook manager Francis Haugen. Since leaving the company with a trove of data in tow, Haugen has filed Securities and Exchange Commission complaints claiming the company mislead users, investors, and regulators as to the extent of problems at the social network, as well as released huge amounts of data showing that reform efforts at the company often ran into interference by management and GOP-friendly Facebook lobbyists, were rolled out too slowly to help, or were stymied as the company chose business incentives over preventing harm.
Given all this, it’s hardly surprising that Facebook isn’t quite keeping pace with those non-binding recommendations. If you imagine Facebook as a giant stone slowly crushing the internet to death, the Oversight Board is just one of many factions around the company trying to tug it in their direction with a fraying rope. (One can also imagine a scenario where Facebook might think it’s to their benefit to exaggerate just how much independent oversight the Oversight Board is generating for them.)
Reached for comment, Facebook spokesperson Jeffrey Gelman directed Gizmodo via email to the quarterly report in question as well as a tracker on what recommendations it is already working on.
“The Oversight Board is working with Meta to strengthen the company’s implementation of our recommendations, as we push them to provide greater transparency about their content moderation and to treat all users fairly,” the Oversight Board told Gizmodo in a statement via email. “We’ve made over 70 recommendations to date to Meta, the majority of which they’ve committed to, but there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. We’re closely monitoring how the company responds to our recommendations, and will continue to publicly report on how we view Meta’s progress in implementing these.”