Facebook Names the 20 People Who Can Overrule Mark Zuckerberg

A Pulitzer Prize–winning newspaper editor who published the documents leaked by Edward Snowden. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate. A former federal judge who has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court. A witness before the House Judiciary Committee arguing for the impeachment of President Trump. The former prime minister of Denmark, who once jumped out of a limo to take a selfie with Sarah Jessica Parker.No, it’s not the casting call for a wonky sequel to Knives Out. These are a few of the newly announced members of the Facebook Oversight Board , the independent body that the social networking behemoth has launched to reconsider some of its most important content decisions. When the board rules whether to reverse Facebook’s takedown of user content—sometime this fall at the earliest—it will be the first time that anyone will have made decisions about that even Mark Zuckerberg can’t change.

Wednesday, we learned the names of the board members. It’s an impressive bunch who won’t necessarily feel beholden to the company whose processes they will be second-guessing. They won’t be quitting their day jobs—Facebook sees this as a part-time job. But they expect their participation to make a difference in the world.

“This is a historic moment,” says Kate Klonick, a law professor who has been closely following the creation of the board. “This is the first time a private transnational company had voluntarily assigned a part of its policies to an external body like this.”

Getting to this point has been laborious, and this step is months past the original timetable . Late last year and into early this year, Facebook selected the four co-chairs of the board, and for much of 2020, those co-chairs have worked with the company to select the other 16 members. (These 20 members and Facebook will choose another 20, and from then on new members will be selected without Facebook’s participation.) The co-chairs give a good indication of what kind of people Facebook wants on the board: serious people of accomplishment with backgrounds in governance and law. (Three of the four are attorneys.)

• Jamal Greene is a law professor at Columbia University, specializing in constitutional law. He clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens and in 2019 served as an aide to Senator Kamala Harris during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. His brother is the rapper Talib Kweli. (There are no rappers on the board itself.)• Michael McConnell is a former federal judge who now is at Stanford Law School and the Hoover Institution. A staunch conservative, he is also of counsel to Wilson Sonsini, the law firm representing many Silicon Valley elite tech firms.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt served as Denmark’s prime minister from 2011 to 2015, and later was CEO of Save the Children, a humanitarian aid organization. She is married to the son of former UK Labour leader Neil Kinnock.• Catalina Botero-Marino is a Colombian attorney and law professor who, as special rapporteur for free expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, exposed efforts to violate free speech rights.Facebook began plans for the board in early 2018, as Zuckerberg, sensitive to criticism after the 2016 election , thought outsourcing some decisions to an independent entity would help Facebook’s credibility. “I think it would help make people feel like the process was more impartial on judging what content should be on the service and what’s not,” he told me around then.

Over time, the company assigned more than 100 people to help set up the board’s structure and create a set of software tools that would help it make its judgments. Late last year, the company set up an independent trust, funded by a $130 million grant, to manage the board, hire the staff, and pay members. The last step before the so-called Supreme Court of Facebook convenes was picking the members.

For now, the board will only consider appeals in cases where Facebook took down user content; later it will tackle cases where arguably objectionable content was allowed to stand. (Take note, Nancy Pelosi.) It will also limit itself to Facebook’s main, blue, app and Instagram at first.