Does Facebook’s Oversight Board Finally Solve the Problem of Online Speech?

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CIGI Online

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During the summer of 2019, the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas — the gunman apparently spurred on by online hate and troll community 8chan (Roose 2019) — reignited calls for online social media platforms to take down harmful content. In response to pressure, the intermediary site Cloudflare dropped its protection of 8chan (Newman 2019), only the second time in the service’s questionable history that it has deplatformed one of its clients (the first being white supremacy site the Daily Stormer, following the fatal protests in Charlottesville in August 2017) (Klonick 2017). A few months later, in a dance that has become depressingly familiar over the last four years, conservative members of the US Congress demanded that platforms uphold free speech and not be allowed to wantonly “censor” certain types of content (Padhi 2018).

This tension is nothing new. The difficulty of preserving private companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as open platforms that support freedom of expression, while also meeting real-world concerns and removing harmful content, is as old as the internet itself. And while activists, scholars, government and civil society have called on platforms to be more accountable to their users for decades, the feasibility of creating some kind of massive global stakeholder effort has proved an unwieldy and intractable problem. Until now.