Facebook will outsource tough content decisions to its new “Supreme Court” but experts warn it operates as a “dictatorship”

Internet policy experts worry that this board allows Facebook to outsource criticism in controversial cases while keeping the power to make its own rules

More than two years after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg first floated the idea of an independent “Supreme Court” that could make the final call on difficult content moderation decisions, the company’s Oversight Board is finally nearing its launch date.

Julie Owono, a human and digital rights lawyer and inaugural board member, told Business Insider in an interview this week that the board hopes, “if things go well, to be able to take cases by mid- to late-October this year.”

The Oversight Board is an experiment in self-regulation with little precedent and the ambitious aim of resolving some of the many gray areas surrounding Facebook‘s complex and ever-evolving policies surrounding what content people are allowed to post on its platforms — its so-called “Community Standards” (or Community Guidelines for Instagram).

These policies, like laws passed by some governments, try to strike a balance between goals that often come into conflict with one another, such as protecting free speech and expression while also keeping people safe and delivering reliable information about everything from COVID-19 to elections.

As Owono acknowledged, the board can’t possibly examine every disputed case, but plans to focus on those where there are “significant questions” about freedom of expression, international human rights, or where the content could “have huge impacts — human impact, moral impact, economic impact.”

Facebook declined to comment for this story.

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal exploded in 2018, Facebook has confronted a stream of controversies around who it allows onto its platforms, what it allows them to post, and how it enforces these rules, from posts that fueled genocide in Myanmar to Russian bot armies to dangerous health-related misinformation that racked up 3.8 billion views in the last year alone.

Facing increased pressure from lawmakers, particularly in Europe and the US, Zuckerberg has gradually shifted his posture from saying it was a “crazy idea” that fake news on Facebook influenced the 2016 elections to explicitly asking for more regulation. But given the strong legal protections Facebook and other internet platforms enjoy under “Section 230,” a provision in a nearly 25-year-old law that has come under fire from both ends of the political spectrum — albeit for very different reasons — the company is also trying to head off any legislation it might not like.

Read more: Business Insider