(New York, NY) — The literary and free expression group PEN America announced today that its CEO Suzanne Nossel—a free expression expert, human rights leader, author, and lawyer—will join the Oversight Board, an independent panel of human rights and free expression leaders and thinkers that applies international human rights standards in reviewing Facebook and Instagram’s most significant content moderation decisions.

As the 20th member of the panel, Nossel will continue in her role at PEN America while taking part in the Oversight Board’s periodic deliberations and rulings, bringing her experience at the helm of PEN America to bear on the Board’s adjudications.

“We are delighted to welcome Suzanne Nossel to the Oversight Board,” the Board said in a statement today. “Suzanne is a champion of free speech and human rights, and her expertise and record of leadership across government, the private sector, and civil society will help the Board to make progress on our mission.”

“Defending free expression and human rights is the focus of my career and role at PEN America,” said PEN America’s Nossel. “The Oversight Board represents a consequential experiment in terms of navigating the future of free speech online. I’m entering into this endeavor with open eyes, hoping to bring about greater transparency and fealty to human rights principles in the digital arena.”

In its work defending free expression, PEN America has long recognized the powerful influence of social media platforms on the landscape for free speech. PEN America has frequently sounded alarm bells about the unfettered discretion that these and other private companies hold over public discourse, urging transparency and accountability, and pressing the companies to establish clearer guidelines—rooted in international human rights law—to govern the moderation of online speech. Most recently, PEN America published a report, No Excuse for Abuse: What Social Media Companies Can Do Now to Combat Online Harassment and Empower Users, on how social media platforms need to retool product design to shield users from online abuse while also protecting free expression.

Both the Board and its administration are funded by an independent trust and supported by an independent company that is separate from Facebook. PEN America will continue its vigorous work defending free expression and, when appropriate, criticizing Facebook and other social media platforms (see the FAQs below about how PEN America will avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest). Nossel fills a vacancy left by Stanford law professor Pam Karlan, who left the Board to assume the role as a principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Biden Department of Justice.

“PEN America has not hesitated to criticize individual social media platforms for their policies, decisions, and acts of omission that cause harm, or to make recommendations about what needs to be remedied,” said PEN America’s Nossel. “I have dealt with that subject in my book and in numerous commentaries, and it is the subject of multiple PEN America reports. Participating in the Board will enable me to bring those concerns to the table as an independent voice in influential deliberations, while sustaining my own and PEN America’s freedom to scrutinize and critique the outsized role digital platforms play in shaping our public dialogue. If confidentiality or recusal is necessitated by my involvement in an individual case, other leaders at PEN America will weigh in as they often do.”

About PEN America

PEN America is a leader on free expression in the United States and globally. With 7,500 Members, the organization defends the freedom to write and celebrates literary excellence through its programming, research, advocacy, and events. This spring, PEN America will release the second edition of its annual Freedom to Write Index, a marquee report documenting the writers and public intellectuals detained worldwide. The organization this year will also continue its initiatives fighting against disinformation, currently mushrooming on social media platforms, as well as its work combating online abuse on the platforms.

About Suzanne Nossel

Suzanne Nossel is Chief Executive Officer at PEN America and author of Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All. Prior to joining PEN America, she served as the chief operating officer of Human Rights Watch. She served in the Obama administration as deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations, leading U.S. engagement in the United Nations and multilateral institutions on human rights issues, and in the Clinton administration as deputy to the U.S. ambassador for UN management and reform. Nossel coined the term “smart power,” which was the title of a 2004 article she published in Foreign Affairs Magazine and later became the theme of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tenure in office. She is a featured columnist for Foreign Policy magazine and has published op-eds in The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as scholarly articles in Foreign Affairs, Dissent, and Democracy, among others. Nossel is a magna cum laude graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School.



Is the Oversight Board independent from Facebook?
Yes. Oversight Board Members are not employed by Facebook. The Oversight Board is funded by a Trust that is financially independent of Facebook and managed by a group of independent Trustees charged with ensuring the Board’s independence, and governing its financing and operations. The Board chooses its own Members, who cannot be removed by Facebook. The Oversight Board’s decisions are binding on the company. The Board’s structure, responsibilities, purpose, and relationship to Facebook are outlined in the Oversight Board Charter. If at any time that independence is compromised, Nossel will re-evaluate her participation on the Board.

Will PEN America still criticize Facebook, Instagram, or other platforms?
Yes. Nossel’s participation will not constrain the strong, often-critical voice that Nossel, PEN America and its Members have wielded to demand changes at Facebook and other social media companies. Suzanne herself will continue to opine on digital freedom issues in public statements, reports, op-eds, press interviews, and other fora. PEN America will disclose Nossel’s participation on the Oversight Board as relevant and Nossel will recuse herself from PEN America commentary on Oversight Board matters.  

Will PEN America continue to accept funding from Facebook?
PEN America has received project support from Facebook in recent years specifically for its media literacy work. Facebook has not sought to exert any control over the content or substance of that work. Facebook is among the many publishers, digital platforms, and online companies that support PEN America. PEN America has a robust conflict of interest policy built into all of its grant agreements which prohibit funders from interfering in PEN America’s work and safeguarding its independence. Nossel will recuse herself from any internal decision-making about future funding between Facebook and PEN America.