On Thursday May 7, 2020; Julie Owono, a digital rights advocate and Executive Director of Internet Sans Frontières from Cameroon, Maina Kiai, a human rights activist and Director of Human Rights Watch’s Global Alliances and Partnerships program from Kenya, and Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, a human rights lawyer and Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa from Senegal, Ghana and South Africa, were appointed as Board Members to the newly created Oversight Board.
The Oversight Board will review certain content decisions by Facebook and Instagram and make binding decisions based on respect for freedom of expression and human rights.
The Oversight Board will tackle increasingly complex and contentious debates about what types of content should and should not be permitted on Facebook and Instagram and who should decide.
The Board will prioritize cases that potentially impact many users, are of critical importance to public discourse, or raise questions about Facebook’s policies. Decisions made by the Board must be implemented by Facebook, as long as they do not violate the law.
Oversight Board Members are independent from the company, funded by an independent trust and cannot be removed by Facebook based on their decisions.
“Preserving the free flow of information is a major issue in our contemporary societies,” aid Julie Owono. “I come from Cameroon, I grew up in Russia, studied in France, I am currently in the USA, this journey has reinforced my conviction that without freedoms, without the right to express oneself, to receive or impart information, there can’t be true and profound progress. It is an honor for me to serve this cause, within the Oversight Board.”
“We have been talking for a long time about creating some kind of independent governance structure for making big companies more accountable on some of the most important decisions they make,” said Maina Kiai. State regulation is important, and I think we need to make progress there too, but I think the Board is an exciting experiment and I’m excited to be part of it,” Kiai added.
“The very act of creating this Board shows Facebook has taken the criticism leveled against it seriously and I hope my membership can help address some of these criticisms,” said Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei. I am particularly focused on the Board’s role in improving transparency and accountability, and creating an appeals process where people can bring their content issues. I feel strongly that the Board needs to be truly representative, not just in terms of geography, but age, subject matter and breadth of issues covered as well,” added Asare-Kyei.
Owono, Kiai and Asare-Kyei will work in collaboration with 17 other Members who speak over 27 languages and have diverse professional, cultural, political, and religious backgrounds and viewpoints. Over time the Board will grow to around 40 Members. While no one can claim to represent everyone, Members are confident that the global composition will underpin, strengthen and guide decision-making.
The Board was designed with transparency in mind
All decisions will be made public, and Facebook must respond publicly to them. All Board decisions will be published on its website, while protecting the identity and privacy of those involved.
Additionally, the Board will issue a public annual report on its work to evaluate how the Board is fulfilling its purpose and whether Members believe Facebook is living up to its commitments.
Members are independent from Facebook
Members contract directly with the Oversight Board, are not Facebook employees and cannot be removed by Facebook. Members will serve for a maximum of three 3-year terms and case panels will be confidential and assigned at random; no Member can choose the panel they sit on, and all opinions will be anonymous.
The Board’s financial independence is also guaranteed by the establishment of a $130 million trust fund that is completely independent of Facebook, which will fund its operations and cannot be revoked.
The Oversight Board is focused on addressing some of the most significant content moderation decisions on Facebook and Instagram that are referred by both users and Facebook
The Oversight Board will begin hearing cases in the coming months. Initially, users will be able to appeal to the Board in cases where Facebook has removed their content.
Over the following months, the Board will also be able to review appeals from users who want Facebook to remove content, including advertising.
The Board will not be able to make decisions on all of the many thousands of appeals from users that it anticipates receiving, but it will prioritise cases that potentially impact many users, are of critical importance to public discourse or that raise questions about Facebook’s policies.
About the new appointees:
Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, Senegal, Ghana and South Africa:
Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, where she focuses on human rights, women’s rights, criminal justice, access to information and media freedom issues, and previously worked at Save the Children and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei is a human rights lawyer and development professional with extensive experience in strategy development, program design, grant management, research and stakeholder engagement in Southern, Western and Central Africa.
Of Ghanaian and South African citizenship, she has a varied background in supporting and developing transformational social programs and advocacy strategies through the provision of technical advice and input into policy and programming of civil society organizations on issues like access to information, freedom of expression, human rights and substantive justice, especially as they relate to the inclusion, equality of opportunity and empowerment of vulnerable and under-represented groups such as women, children, persons with disabilities and LGBTIQs.
Asare-Kyei has also worked for a number of international development and philanthropic organizations in different capacities in Africa.
She is passionate about Africa, its development and has a working knowledge of African regional mechanisms and institutions. She is a graduate of the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa. Her research interests include women, children and disability rights, critical race feminism and socioeconomic rights of the poor.
Julie Owono, Cameroon
Digital rights advocate who serves as the Executive Director of Internet Sans Frontières, a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, a Non-Resident Fellow at the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford.
Julie Owono is an expert in digital rights and an advocate for Business and Human Rights principles in the technology industry.
She is Executive Director of Internet Without Borders, an organization which defends digital rights and access to the internet.
She is also a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, a Digital Civil Society Fellow at Stanford University, a member of UNESCO’s Ad Hoc Expert Group (AHEG) for the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and a Member of the Expert Committee on Digital Inclusion of the World Benchmarking Alliance.
Maina Kiai, Kenya
Director of Human Rights Watch’s Global Alliances and Partnerships Program, a former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, and the former head of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
Maina Kiai is the Director of the Global Alliances and Partnerships at Human Rights Watch.
Previously, he was the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Assembly and Association and a founding co-director at InformAction, a Kenyan human rights NGO that advanced human rights through documentary film and community-based debate and mobilizing.
He also served as the founding executive chair of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, an independent state body, and as the founding executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Kenya’s leading human rights NGO.
Throughout his career, Kiai has served in leadership roles in prominent national and international human rights organizations, received many fellowships and published widely. He has been a columnist with Nation Media Group and the Standard Group.
He is the recipient of the George Kirkland Human Rights Award from AFL-CIO, the Freedom Award from Freedom House, the Leo Navas Award from UN Foundation of USA and the Public Servant Award from the Gay and Lesbians Coalition of Kenya, among other honors.