Maina Kiai on global oversight body to regulate Facebook and Instagram content

Maina Kiai has been appointed board member of the Oversight Board for Facebook and Instagram Content.

The human rights activist Kiai also serves as the Director of Human Rights Watch’s Global Alliances and Partnerships program

He will be part of a board that will be charged with reviewing certain content decisions by Facebook and Instagram and make binding decisions based on respect for freedom of expression and human rights.

The Oversight Board will tackle increasingly complex and contentious debates about what types of content should and should not be permitted on Facebook and Instagram and who should decide.

The Standard interviewed Kiai on the oversight body:

Maina Kiai, Member of Oversight Board for Facebook and Instagram Content.

What will be your role in the Oversight Board in terms of content regulation for Facebook and Instagram?

As a member of the Oversight Board, our role will be focused on addressing some of the most significant content moderation decisions on Facebook and Instagram that are referred to by both users and Facebook.

Facebook and Instagram users consume and interact with different content hence are bound to have divergent views about almost everything, how will you establish which content is suitable for Facebook or Instagram given that they are consumed by diverse people with different preferences?

That is correct. Different people have different views and we understand that they may view content differently depending on the platform and its contexts. However, there are certain issues, for example fake news or hate speech, that stirs debates worldwide and regardless if you are a Facebook or Instagram user. It is issues like these that we want to address and find common ground so as to make these platforms as safe as possible for all.

Fake news is a big issue across the world and Kenya is no exception. As a human rights activist and now in the Oversight board how will you work to tame the effects of fake news especially during the electioneering period?

It is sad that fake news has compounded us in these times, and it is one of the biggest challenges facing social media companies and societies across the world. I am committed to promoting respect for free expression and human rights, and I am particularly passionate to ensure that the effects of fake news do not erode the gains of democracy that we have worked so hard for—spilling blood, sweat and tears--especially in countries like Kenya.

The remit of the Oversight Board is to make binding decisions on what content Facebook and Instagram should allow or remove, based on respect for freedom of expression and international human rights. Oversight Board Members are focused on bringing greater clarity and transparency to how online content is moderated and ensuring Facebook and Instagram users across the world understand how decisions are made about their communities.

The Board’s scope includes reviewing appeals from users regarding content allowed to remain on Facebook or Instagram, including misinformation, and once we are up and running, we hope to start hearing these kind of cases in the coming months.

In your statement you said “We have been talking for a long time about creating some kind of independent governance structure for making big companies more accountable on some of the most important decisions they make” Do you feel that Facebook was never accountable on its decisions with regards to content regulation?

Let me expand on this point. Facebook has publicly stated that it welcomes more regulation. The Board does not take responsibility away from FB, it simply introduces a new level of oversight that will make FB more accountable and improve the way it makes decisions given that the OB it is an independent structure that can overview Facebook’s activities so that it make well informed decisions that are in the interest of users.

How will you work to ensure that even as you are keen on content on Facebook and Instagram, the freedom of speech and expression as a human right is not clipped by the oversight board?

I am a firm believer in human rights therefore I will not engage in or oversee any activity that I know will undermine the very beliefs that I embrace, and have worked for, all my life.

Making decisions about content on social media platforms often involves navigating a range of complex societal, technical and regulatory issues and the board will work carefully not to undermine the freedom of speech and expression but to ensure that that freedom is not misused by anyone on either Facebook or Instagram. Indeed, the Board members have been chosen for their commitment to human rights and freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Will the board partner with government agencies such as National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) or Kenya Film and Classification Board in Kenya to help you make informed decisions touching on content?

I think it’s important that we work with other likeminded bodies even as we keep our independence in check. If we receive an issue from the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) or Kenya Film and Classification Board in Kenya and we find the issue to be of critical importance to public discourse, then it will be important that we weigh in on it. But let me emphasize that anyone, individuals, groups, or associations, can raise any issues for the OB to investigate.

There are decisions that the board will make that will not be popular, how will you balance this scenario?

It is important to note that our decisions will not be based on popular acceptance. The decisions will be arrived at after thorough examination of facts and all the issues raised and they will be decisions that will be of the best interest of users. Our role is to try to ensure that we act as gatekeeper to content that is flagged to be fake, or heavily biased on a view that can be triggering, damaging or seeks to provoke.

Do you feel that the formation of the Oversight Board is timely? Why?

Yes. It is very timely, we need a body to help overview and act as a support to global social media platforms that can arbitrate discussions that may have a very negative agenda or be based on content that is designed to actively skew or misguide perception. Any organization that welcomes outside regulation is a good sign.

The world needs more accountability and responsible companies that welcome a regulatory environment is a positive. I believe that Oversight Board is a very good move in the right direction in helping companies becoming more accountable and responsible for their actions.