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NLS VC Sudhir Krishnaswamy one of 20 members of Facebook’s new oversight trust that is to cure its Content Problem

Sudhir Krishnaswamy to be one of 20 to assist Facebook with content moderation policies
Sudhir Krishnaswamy to be one of 20 to assist Facebook with content moderation policies

NLSIU Bangalore vice chancellor (VC) Prof Sudhir Krishnaswamy has been appointed to a novel Facebook content oversight board that seeks to help solve the US-based advertising behemoth festering content moderation problems, as first reported IANS.

Krishnaswamy commented to IANS:

Content moderation and content control has been a problem in most jurisdictions around the world, India being one of the most affected. Currently content is controlled either by private companies or the government.

“Creating this new mechanism for platform governance to oversee a private company is a radical reform; if this mechanism works, it provides us with a new institutional model for handling content moderation in the future. This is as important to the future of democracy as it is to the market.”

More of Krishnaswamy’s credentials for the role are set out in the IANS article, such as having co-founded the NGO Centre for Law and Policy Research (for advancing constitutional protections) been part of the founding team of the Bangalore-based NGO, Alternative Law Forum, and he has “cautioned on the importance of ensuring that regulatory frameworks governing content platforms are ‘consistent with our constitutional and political values of our democracy’ and that ‘excessive and dangerous discretion in the hands of regulating officers of the government’ could ‘lead to violation of basic human rights and constitutionally protected fundamental rights of citizens’“, according to IANS.

Other members of the board include other academics and senior NGO members and activists, Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman, former Guardian editor-in-chief and Facebook critic Alan Rusbridger,

Notably, Facebook makes clear that the contract of the new members is with the Oversight Board and that they are not Facebook employees and can not be removed by Facebook.

We have reached out to Krishnaswamy asking about the time commitment and salary component of the role and will update this article later.

According to Facebook's press release (which is bylined by Nick Clegg, the advertising giant’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications since 2018, who was previously also the Liberal Democrat Party deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 until 2015 under its ill-fated coalition with the Tories):

The members announced today reflect a wide range of views and experiences. They have lived in over 27 countries, speak at least 29 languages and are all committed to the mission of the Oversight Board.

We expect them to make some decisions that we, at Facebook, will not always agree with – but that’s the point: they are truly autonomous in their exercise of independent judgment. We also expect that the board’s membership itself will face criticism. But its long-term success depends on it having members who bring different perspectives and expertise to bear.

Facebook has of course seen wide-ranging criticism over its content moderation policies (or lack thereof), having been blamed and/or hauled up by or before governments, parliamentary oversight committees and international bodies for a range of problems that covers nearly everything from allowing hate speech, censorship of minority views, rigging elections, as well as facilitating genocide and ethnic cleansing.

According to Clegg, part of the problem Facebook faces is its size, with which “comes a great deal of responsibility” (though Clegg fails to explicitly mention Facebook’s parallel overriding responsibility to grow as fast as possible (and formerly break things) in order to increase profitability for shareholders and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, who controls around 60% of voting stock in the company).

In any case, regarding content moderation, “most judgments do not have obvious, or uncontroversial, outcomes and yet many of them have significant implications for free expression,” noted Clegg in the press statement. “That’s why we have created and empowered a new group to exercise independent judgment over some of the most difficult and significant content decisions.”

This first group of members, including Krishnaswamy, came about after a “global consultation process” hosted by Facebook with workshops and roundtables including more than 650 individuals in 88 countries.

Now, as a result of this exercise, Facebook has constituted the oversight board trust, appointed its members and released the board’s final charter and bylaws.

The independent “Oversight Board Trust” was set up in October 2019 as a Delaware Limited Liability Company (LLC), functioning as a Non-Charitable Purpose Trust, according to the social media and advertising conglomerate.

(For trust documentation wonks, Facebook has even uploaded the Trust Agreement (pdf), and the LLC Operating Agreement (pdf), as well as amendment agreements on its website).

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