Evelyn Douek, Why Facebook’s 'Values' Update Matters, Lawfare, Sept. 16, 2019:
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, has released periodic “manifestos” in the form of blog posts laying out his vision for the company—or, as Zuckerberg prefers to call it, the “Community.” But this latest update written by Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, is far more substantive than mere corporate buzzwords. It may have a significant impact for the platform and, therefore, for online speech.
Under the heading “Expression,” the new values set out Facebook’s vision for the platform and its rules:
The goal of our Community Standards is to create a place for expression and give people voice. Building community and bringing the world closer together depends on people’s ability to share diverse views, experiences, ideas and information. We want people to be able to talk openly about the issues that matter to them, even if some may disagree or find them objectionable. In some cases, we allow content which would otherwise go against our Community Standards—if it is newsworthy and in the public interest. We do this only after weighing the public interest value against the risk of harm, and we look to international human rights standards to make these judgments.The update then goes on to note that there are four values that may justify limiting expression: authenticity, safety, privacy and dignity.
There is a lot to unpack in this very short post. A few things are especially worth noting: the prioritization of “voice” as the overarching value, the understanding that the purpose of this voice is to “build community and bring the world closer together” and the explicit incorporation of international human rights standards.
The Oversight Board:
Bickert’s post does not give any clues as to the reason for the update. But the post comes as Facebook is finalizing its plans for an independent Oversight Board, which will be able to review and overrule Facebook’s content moderation decisions. When Facebook released its Draft Charter for the new board, it noted that the board would base its decisions on Facebook’s Community Standards and “a set of values, which will include concepts like voice, safety, equity, dignity, equality and privacy.” As I wrote at the time, “This sounds good, but a list of priorities that includes everything prioritizes nothing.” Facebook had to make difficult choices about what the point of Facebook is in order to guide the board in cases of ambiguity. The quiet update to its values last week represents this important step.
As Facebook readies itself to outsource ultimate decisions about its rules to an independent, external body, these values represent both a set of instructions to the board about the ambit of its role, as well as a commitment to bind Facebook to the mast of the implications of these values expressly laid down.
Of course, none of the values Facebook has set out are technically binding. Facebook could theoretically change its values the day after it gets an Oversight Board decision it doesn’t like. [...]
But the point of the Oversight Board experiment is to garner greater public legitimacy for Facebook’s content moderation decisions through a commitment to transparency and explanation of Facebook’s decision-making. The board’s existence is fundamentally a bet that this kind of legitimacy matters to users’ perceptions of the company and their decisions on whether to keep using the platform—as well as to regulators pondering what to do about the tech giants. [...] it will be the public’s job, too, to hold the company and its new Oversight Board to a fair and justifiable reading of what these commitments entail.