Facebook has recently announced the first 20 names that will compose its Oversight Board and two of them hail from Latin America: Brazilian Ronaldo Lemos and Colombian Catalina-Botero Marino. She will also be the Oversight Board’s Co-chair as part of Facebook’s efforts to slow the spread of misleading information.
Ronaldo Lemos, a lawyer specialized in digital law and a Professor at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) told LABS that Facebook’s invitation made him happy, “at the same time aware of the enormous responsibility” at hands.
That is indeed a huge responsibility, because the group will act as a kind of ‘high court’, to which users or Facebook itself may appeal about issues surrounding the removal or replacement of controversial content on Facebook and Instagram. The big tech will be forced to abide by the Oversight’s decisions.
Besides being a professor, Ronaldo Lemos co-founded the non-profit Institute for Technology and Society. He’s a lawyer who practices technology, intellectual property, and media law, and is also a co-creator of Brazil’s Internet bill of rights law. Lemos has served on the boards of the Mozilla Foundation and Access Now.
According to him, the committee will have the mission of giving the final say on issues related to content on the social network platforms and it will always be collegial, never individual. “The Oversight Board is independent from decision-making,” he says.
The group members are from various countries. They are lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders, and other academics. Dean of the Universidad de Los Andes Faculty of Law, Catalina-Botero Marino has served as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression at the Organization of American States, as an alternate judge at the Colombian Constitutional Court, and as a Board Member of Article 19.
She said, in a press conference reported by El Tiempo, that the team will work to serve the global community and not to be an echo chamber, but to include perspectives that improve decision making. The first cases to Lemos and Marino to judge will probably get to them between September and October.
The committee may also suggest changes in Facebook’s policies. One of the first issues to be addressed is expected to be Facebook’s advertising policy, since Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has repeatedly opposed deleting political ads.
In September 2019 Facebook refused to conduct fact-checking ads and politicians’ publications. Zuckerberg had to testify to the U.S. Congress about the impact of the social network on elections and democracy. “If a politician is saying things that are calling for violence, or physical harm we will take that content down”, he said at that time.
In recent years, the social network has come under public pressure regarding content moderation. After 2016 presidential election in the United States, which Republican Donald Trump won, Zuckerberg had eyes of all America on him, since researchers familiar to the matter have pointed out that fake news on Facebook had at least helped to leverage Trump’s campaign and Facebook was accused of interference and misinformation, according to the New York Times.
However, Facebook’s CEO didn’t agree with this. In an interview with the Techonomy in November 2016, he said that Facebook had no impact on the election results. “Voters make decisions based on their lived experience,” he said. “People are trying to understand the result of the election, but there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is that they saw some fake news. If you believe that, then you haven’t internalized the message that Trump supporters are trying to send in this election.”
In Brazil, Facebook was also called to present data at a Congress Investigation Commitee on Fake News, harmful content, and misleading information, as reported by Folha de S. Paulo. Asked about his role concerning fake news in Brazil, Lemos states that it’s not the aim of the Oversight Board to deal specifically with Brazil and that the issues will be analyzed from a global point of view.