Nobel Laureate Calls Oversight Board “Deflection” – She Is Right and Here Is How

The most powerful moment at the recent Wexfo World Expression Forum was when Maria Ressa held Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s hand on the closing panel as she explained that the organization Thorning-Schmidt fronts is a deflection.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt is a superstar in European policy, former primer minister of Denmark for the Labour party. Her husband is Stephen Kinnock, son of Neil Kinnock who challenged Margaret Thatcher in UK politics in the 1980’s. These days, HTS appears on panels as the chair of the Oversight board – you know the supposedly independent committee that was put in place to advise Meta on publishing ethics and to which users can complain. Advice being the operative word, no duty for Meta to follow it.

Maria Ressa is a Nobel Peace Price Laureate, a Filipino-American journalist, author and free speech-activist who was sentenced to jail by for online libel following her investigative reporting on Philippines-president Rodrigo Duterte’s human rights crimes. She is a worthy winner, having fought for the truth and taken much risk. Ressa’s news channel Rappler started as a Facebook-page, but more recently she has criticized Facebook for not acting on how its platform is weaponized against journalists.

So Maria Ressa held HTS’s hand as she softly told her that the Oversight board is a deflection, comforting her as a person but relentlessly criticizing her work. It was strange and beautiful to watch, such a powerful and yet loving move. And Ressa is right.

On the day before, Dex Hunter-Torricke had appeared on a different Wexfo-panel. His title is a mouthful: Vice President of Global Communications & Public Engagement for Meta’s Oversight Board. Discussing the Oversight Board’s role, he said that there is no single solution that will fix all problems online. As if anyone had thought so! He said it to play down the board’s power, but of course all anyone could ask for is for them to live up to their mission and make sure that Meta plays by the same rules as anyone else distributing content in the public sphere. You know… press ethics.

Lo and behold, what did Helle Thorning-Schmidt say on the Day 2-panel? That there is no single solution that will fix all problems online. That’s right, Meta’s spin doctors could use some more overtime on their talking points. Or even better, they could write real answers instead of… deflection.

The Oversight board can only criticise bad take-downs, not material that stays up. It’s a one-way streetsign. No use for privacy, fake news, copyright or such problems then. No need for Meta to worry about that. Anyway, Meta seems to take the independence very literally, following the board’s guidance when it wants. 14 of the 18 recommendations to date have been implemented. Earlier this spring, Meta turned to the board for advice on how to moderate content relating to Russia’s renewed war in Ukraine. Except Meta got cold feet and withdrew the request, with no further explanation than “ongoing safety concerns”. Perhaps Meta agrees that even the Oversight board is not a single solution to fix all the problems online?