Facebook says it can’t keep pace with its own Oversight Board

"We believe the current design of the recommendation process may not be the best way to bring about the long-term, structural changes the board is pushing us to undertake."

The facebook logo displayed on a smartphone screen, in front of a backdrop of the Facebook logo.

Facebook is drowning in recommendations from its Oversight Board.

Photo illustration: Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Depending on who you ask, Facebook's Oversight Board is either a massive PR stunt to deflect blame away from the company or an ambitious and thoughtful experiment in social media governance. Whatever it is, it's apparently becoming untenable for Facebook.

In a report published Tuesday, Facebook said it's struggling to keep up with the pace of recommendations being dished out by the board and that it needs to come up with a better way to communicate with the board that doesn't entail writing dueling, multi-page missives.

"We believe the current design of the recommendation process may not be the best way to bring about the long-term, structural changes the board is pushing us to undertake," the report reads.

The board has issued 78 recommendations since January. Under its agreement with the board, Facebook is supposed to respond to each of those recommendations, which are non-binding, within 30 days. But Facebook hasn't made substantive progress on lots of those recommendations, in part because, the company said, that 30-day deadline is too tight.

"On average, our teams assess and respond to anywhere from 5 to 35 recommendations at any one point in time," the report reads. "The majority of these recommendations require over a dozen people to assess feasibility, which we cannot easily complete in 30 days."

Facebook's current product "roadmapping" approach involves quantitative and qualitative analysis and "requires making trade-offs and prioritizing among multiple, competing initiatives," the report said. But that process only happens every six months, meaning some of the board's recommendations are currently being considered on a slower timeline.

Out of the 69 recommendations the board made during the past two quarters of this year (which includes nine that carried over from the first quarter), Facebook has fully implemented just 12 of them. Another 23 recommendations are in progress, and the company is still assessing the feasibility of 17 recommendations.

The belabored, deliberative process Facebook goes through before making changes to its products has been on display recently in light of whistleblower Frances Haugen's disclosures to Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Those documents show in no uncertain terms how extensively Facebook scrutinizes any potential changes to its products, even in the face of evidence that its products are actively causing harm, and is often too slow to act on the findings of all that research.

In addition to more time, Facebook said it also needs a better way to communicate with the board. The company has recently held a series of question and answer sessions with the board, which it says were more productive. "The current format of knowledge sharing — with largely formalized, written exchanges — is not well suited to answering the board's questions about the complexities of our systems or content moderation at scale," the report reads.

Facebook said it's working with an organization called Business for Social Responsibility on a report "to study and explore options for our ongoing interactions with the board," and expects to publish their findings next year.

It's unclear how much say the board will have in dictating how — and how quickly — Facebook responds to its recommendations going forward. Currently, the board's bylaws stipulate that Facebook must respond to its recommendations within 30 days. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Oversight Board told Protocol, "We're closely monitoring how the company responds to our recommendations, and will continue to publicly report on how we view Meta's progress in implementing these." (Facebook rebranded to Meta last month).

On a call with reporters Tuesday, Facebook's head of Global Policy Management, Monika Bickert, declined to offer additional details about what specific changes the company is seeking and whether the board will have to sign off on those changes. "We're trying to get faster in the way we consider those requests," Bickert said. "Those recommendations are never going to be something we can just implement or immediately respond to without taking that considered approach."

This story has been updated to include the board's statement.

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