It’s no secret that Facebook’s methods of content generation are ethically dubious. From quietly trapping users in political echo chambers to (illegally) targeting or excluding users from ads based on their race, the social media platform has long struggled with providing a healthy online environment. Facebook’s oversight board was formed last year to oversee users’ appeals over guideline violations; after Mark Zuckerberg’s inaction in recent months, though, some board members have announced a desire to “see” and potentially begin regulation of “[Facebook’s] algorithm.” While actions from the board might sound like the answer to Facebook’s ethical woes, two questions remain: whether the board can regulate the algorithm––and if it should.
The most significant obstructions of the board’s control are its limited scope of power and relatively small role in the actual design of the algorithms. The oversight board is meant to act as a “Supreme Court” of content regulation, but in reality is more of a “traffic court” that can only make decisions on individual posts handed over by Facebook. Every other matter falls under the authority of Zuckerberg and other Facebook staff; any algorithm critique the board makes would simply be a recommendation. Some board members even admit that they’d need “many sessions with coders speaking very slowly” to understand the parameters that control what content the algorithm suggests. As such, it appears that the board has neither the authority nor the qualifications to regulate Facebook’s algorithm.
If the oversight board is not in a position to regulate the algorithm, then who should? Some Congresspeople believe that the responsibility lies with federal lawmakers and policies; current law excuses social media platforms from the content that their users post, and may need to be amended. Besides issues like plots to kidnap the Michigan Governor or storm the Capitol, though, Facebook’s ethical woes mostly fall short of explicit illegality and thus require additional oversight. The developers and designers at Facebook are in a logistical position to take stronger control over the algorithm’s issues, but may lack responsibility as individuals. The most ideal parties to take direct action would be Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives, as they oversee the company’s development (and thus the algorithm), but they still haven’t done anything concrete. Someone must take the helm of regulating Facebook’s algorithm, but with the way things stand today, is there truly any person or group with the necessary power, responsibility, and understanding to properly do so?