Biztech Africa’s exclusive interview with new Ghanian Facebook Oversight Board member
Newly appointed female Ghanaian human rights lawyer, to serve as a Board Member on the newly created Oversight Board for Facebook and Instagram, Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei has told Biztech Africa that she is optimistic about the work of the board and that it will help maintain Facebook and Instagram as a viable and credible source of information platforms.
Asare-Kyei, whose appointment to the board was recently announced together with two other African members from Cameroon and Kenya, will be joining 17 other Members on the Oversight Board to review certain content decisions by Facebook and Instagram and make binding decisions based on respect for freedom of expression and human rights.
In an exclusive interview with Biztech Africa’s Nana Appiah Acquaye from her base in Senegal, Asare-Kyei shared her personal convictions about the board, especially during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
BTA: Why do you think you personally were asked to come on board?
Afia: I joined the Oversight Board because I have worked for a long time on human rights, justice, freedom of expression and access to information issues and I understand ordinary people’s aspirations for credible information. Facebook is a formidable platform and I believe the work of the Board will help to maintain it as a viable and credible source of information.
I have a non-negotiable stance – in my person and professional practice – on issues, values and principles such as integrity, transparency, accountability, respect for human rights, ethics, diversity, inclusion, voice, appropriate rules of engagement and conduct, and these are also issues that the Board will be exploring and treating.
By being on the Board, I can serve the interest of the global community of users by contributing to Facebook’s content governance and enforcement processes and help to address the concerns and demands of the general public who use it, including myself.
The Oversight Board is an important mission and each Member has demonstrated a commitment to the rights and values that underpin the Board.
BTA: What do you think the advantages of the new Oversight Board of Facebook and Instagram is going to be for the users of these platforms and the world in general?
Afia: The Oversight Board is a new model for social media platform governance. It is a first of its kind. As people committed to freedom of expression and human rights, the Oversight Board is focused on bringing greater clarity and transparency on how online content is moderated and ensuring Facebook and Instagram users across the world understand how decisions are made about their communities.
Transparency is an important part of holding Facebook accountable and transforming a historically opaque decision-making process. Now, the Oversight Board provides an accessible, independent, transparent and inclusive process through which content decisions would be made.
The diverse perspectives and backgrounds of the Board members will be extremely valuable in addressing the most significant and consequential content decisions facing the global online community.
I want the average person using Facebook or Instagram to know that the Oversight Board is made up of individuals from different cultures, beliefs, religion, professional experience and backgrounds drawn from across the globe, with no connection to Facebook who will engage in an independent and transparent content review process and make binding decisions on Facebook that will impact on users and society without regard to the political, economic or reputational interest of Facebook.
BTA: Your country is so proud of you, how are you dealing with being in the spotlight?
I am most grateful and very humbled by the kind and encouraging words. It is indeed a great personal honour and a fantastic opportunity but as you may already guess, daunting task for all of us to have been selected to serve on the Board. I will certainly do my best and pray for wisdom and discernment. The spotlight is a bit overwhelming because I have always preferred to be behind the scenes. I have never sought attention. I work hard and get fulfilment and inspiration from the vulnerable and voiceless people I engage with.
BTA: Why do you think this Advisory Board has happened now, during the pandemic?
Afia: It is purely coincidental. The announcement of the first set of members of the Oversight Board is happening now but the process leading to this announcement started in 2018. Over the last decade, Facebook has found itself at the centre of increasingly complex and contentious debates about what types of content should and should not be permitted on their platforms.
In November 2018, recognizing that no company should settle these issues alone, Facebook committed to creating an Independent Oversight body. Over the last eighteen months, more than 650 experts and stakeholders from 88 countries have contributed feedback that has shaped the development and governing documents of the Oversight Board, which will take final and binding decisions on whether specific content should be allowed or removed from Facebook and Instagram.
With the announcement of the first cohorts of Members, the work of the Board is commencing immediately, and we are on track to begin hearing cases in the coming months. But in a way, the work of the Board is made more urgent during the Coronavirus pandemic.
This crisis is about human lives and health. And as such, it is imperative that all information and content about it on Facebook and Instagram (and even other platforms outside the remit of the Board) are safe, credible, factual, truthful, thoughtful and helpful.
And like everyone in the world, the Board is assessing how the global response to the Coronavirus pandemic will impact important steps required for the Board to reach full operational capability, including recruiting staff, training Members etc. Be that as it may, we look forward to serving the online global community.