It was April of 2018, and Facebook was reeling. Rampant hate speech had helped fuel genocide in Myanmar, ethnic violence in Sri Lanka, and Mark Zuckerberg was set to testify on how Russia and Cambridge Analytica abused the platform to corrupt the 2016 election.
This was the backdrop against which Zuckerberg first floated the concept for the Facebook Oversight Board. In an interview, he outlined his desire to create an independent “Supreme Court… who ultimately make the final judgment call on what should be acceptable speech in a community that reflects the social norms and values of people all around the world.”
More than two years later – amid growing skepticism and unprecedented internal dissent at Facebook – the Oversight Board remains a mere talking point. Deadlines were missed; its purview narrowed; its independence undermined; its authority defanged.
The story of the Oversight Board is the story of Facebook itself. In the most charitable reading, a well-intentioned endeavor failing to live up to its promise. In the more cynical interpretation, a bill of goods designed to perpetuate unchecked growth at any cost.