The Rise of Facebook's Legal System
Cyberspace - Institutions - Global Community - Open Justice - Cyber Jurisdiction
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Nothing is more striking to me about the rise of cyberspace than the ongoing emergence of its institutions. These institutions are essential to the perpetuation of order and safety for a community to develop. According to Nobel Prize winner Douglass North, institutions are the rules of the game. They are, in his words: "humanly devised constraints that structure political, economic and social interactions" Another Nobel Prize laureate, Daron Acemoglu, pointed out the importance of institutions in the road to prosperity in his book Why Nations Fail. For Cyberspace to emerge as the dominant force of the 21st century, it needs its own institutions. In this regard, the development of Facebook's legal system is fascinating.
With 2.7bn monthly active users, Facebook is the largest community on the planet. In a 2017 note, Mark Zuckerberg described his ambition to build a global community that could tackle global challenges humanity faces, such as terrorism, climate change, or pandemics. For Zuckerberg, it’s a natural evolution of the human organization from cities to nations to a global community. If Facebook becomes the tool for human interaction across the globe, it needs a collective set of rules and an enforcement mechanism.
Facebook released its Community Standard, a document that can be seen as a modern version of a legal code. It starts by affirming Facebook's values and then specifies the rules regarding different categories such as safety or intellectual property. Every two weeks, the social network's Product Policy Team discusses potential changes and publishes the meeting minutes. The rules are accessible, understandable, and transparent to such a point that they should be a source of inspiration for many organizations and governments.
With more than 4bn video views and 350 million photos uploaded per day across 101+ languages, enforcing Facebook's law is challenging. Facebook relies heavily on artificial intelligence for the enforcement of its rules. According to its report, their proactive detection rate for hate speech increased to 95% resulting in 22.5 million pieces of content being removed for violations in Q2 2020 only. However, it is tough to understand human culture's complexities for an AI, so Facebook must also rely a lot on human content moderation. These employees have to watch horrible flagged content from murder to sexual abuse to decide whether it violates the rules. Facebook employs 7500 content reviewers and doubles the team's size every year to cover every time zone. Because there is still a lot of subjectivity in the decision-making process, users can appeal to Facebook and get a new review in less than 24 hours. It will soon be possible to appeal to an external jurisdiction not controlled by Facebook, even more impressive.
In 2018, to interpret Facebook's law, the social media giant created an Oversight Board that many called the Facebook Supreme Court. The Board has 40 members who speak 29 languages and include a former prime minister, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the Guardian editor who oversaw the Snowden leaks' publication. This board is independent of Facebook, and it's funded with a $130 million donation to a trust. The Oversight Board Charter details that the Board can request information from Facebook, interpret Facebook's Community Standards, instruct Facebook to allow or remove content or issue written explanations of the board's decisions. The Board is also binding by bylaws that provide operational detail on its independence and rules of procedure. All these internal rules were enacted after a comprehensive consultation with people from 88 different countries. Facebook's Oversight Board started to hear cases on October 22 of this year. This is probably the most modern jurisdiction ever created by a private organization, and I hope it will be successful.
With the rise of cyberspace emerges new kinds of challenges that traditional institutions can't cope with. No state courts can handle so many complaints across so many jurisdictions, languages, and cultures. Like the Lex Mercatoria in the 17th century, the body of rules spontaneously emerges and replaces traditional rules to deal with new challenges. I suspect that we will see many such legal systems materialize and compete with each other. Because it's easy to exit a service in cyberspace, this new form of governance will quickly evolve towards its most optimal state. We have already seen these kinds of developments from companies ranging from Airbnb to Riot Games. As for Facebook, with a body of laws, police to enforce, a jurisdiction, and soon its own currency, the social network is definitely pushing the boundaries of governance. Exciting times ahead!
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Reading the Oversight Board Charter, it's striking that "freedom of speech" is not only redefined, but policed: "internet services have a responsibility to set standards for what is and is not acceptable to share on their platforms." (https://www.oversightboard.com/governance/)
If Facebook were treated as a Sovereign, instituting their own ruling on their cyberspace territory, constitutional rights are a fundamental element of the Charter. Current standards may lead towards an Orwellian future though, leveraging a digital panopticon of advanced surveillance.
Further to this, Facebook's AI content recommendation undeniably influence their users' preferences based on their social graph. Users not only can, but have been influenced by this system in the past. An omnipresent and all-powerful Sovereign of Cyberspace is rising. To your point, control of capital flows by minting its own currency is not only the next logical phase, but almost inevitable.
Now I wonder: how will Sovereigns in the Cyberspace, such as Facebook, enforce their rules with a diminishing return on violence? Their control may be harder to retain over time as digital citizens are quite mobile, to say the least.