MY use of social media has declined significantly since lockdown. I am missing day-to-day human contact and conversations, not the filament of online activity.

Strangely, at the very moment that lockdown has taken a grip on the real world, the wild extremes of social media have come under new and possibly historic scrutiny. Facebook has set up an independent board, separate from its managerial operations, which aims to help improve the governance of social media for the benefits of the greater good.

It is the first tentative steps in what should in time become a regulatory framework for social media.

The board has the unenviable task of trying to find protocols that balance rights and responsibilities, and freedoms and constraints. Like the platform itself, the new era must work across a burgeoning global community of 2.4 billion people, in quite different cultures and communities.

It was Facebook who initiated this oversight system, for which it deserves praise, but it came after relentless criticism that it was not policing its own platform with sufficient care and attention. It helped pick the board’s initial four co-chairs, but then backed off and played only a supporting role in the selection of the other 16 members.

The 20 founding members of Facebook governance speak more than 29 languages and represent various professional, cultural, political and religious backgrounds. Over time, the co-chairs expect to grow the board to around 40 members. What is significant from the outset is that the board is strong on South East Asia and is not a sop to first world culture that many suspected.

Among the first cohort are US law professors Jamal Greene and Michael McConnell; Catalina Botero Marino, a former special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the Organisation of American States; and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark. Other board members include former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger; Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, programme manager at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa; Nighat Dad, executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation; and Australian academic Nicolas Suzor. India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Pakistan, Yemen, Kenya and Cameroon are all represented around the virtual table but, as yet, Scotland is not.

You can pick faults – two of the professorial board members are from Stanford University, Silicon Valley Academy, which is in Facebook’s backyard – but the diversity deserves praise, in marked contrast to last week’s editorial in The New York Times, which infamously analysed global leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic. It devoted only one single sentence to Asia and largely talked about the American and European experience.

According to Endy Bayuni, the chief editor of the Indonesian newspaper The Jakarta Post, the Facebook oversight board has been composed not so much through nationhood but a belief in the abiding values of journalism. “One thing that unites members,” Bayuni wrote, “(is) our global commitment to protecting freedom of expressions and human rights anywhere in the world.”

Bayuni admits that even in its earliest deliberations, the board has witnessed the proliferation of fake news, hoaxes, hate speech and incitements to violence of social media content. Some of these have directly and indirectly led to human rights violations.

Facebook may not be the source of those postings, but it has facilitated their spread and cannot hide behind its original defence that it is a platform, not a publisher, and so cannot be held responsible for what people post. The oversight board can hear cases referred to it by Facebook itself or requested directly by users, for a ruling on content that should be removed or allowed to stay. Any decision on content the board makes is binding for Facebook.

To ensure that the board is not overwhelmed with low-level issues, the day-to-day monitoring of the platform and its complaints procedure will remain separate from the board. So all your everyday whinges about despicable yoons, key-board warriors and deranged zoomers will go to the Facebook complaints process. The board will be more interested in higher-order issues, hate crime, genocide and malign interference in the democratic process.

Although I would like to pretend that there is a board member out there who has heard of Effie Deans, Jill Stephenson or Brian Spanner, their names alone point to issues of perspective. However hurtful the rough and tumble of Scottish political Twitter may be to some, it is a world of genteel reflection compared to the problems experienced by people living in countries under military control or with no free press.

Yes, we are exposed to sectarian insults, low-level bigotry and objectionable bullying, but in the scheme of things, Scotland would be hard pushed to claim it faces similar social struggles to Yemen or Myanmar.

The Facebook board has been clear from the outset that it will select cases which “involve issues that are severe, large-scale and important for public discourse”. It will not become embroiled in petty personal disputes. This is a serious mission. “Each decision will be made publicly available and archived in a database of case decisions on the board’s website, subject to data and privacy restrictions,” Facebook has said.

Think of it as a lockbox of case law against which other disputes can be measured and assessed.

In many countries the stakes are much higher than at home. Social media can quickly become a life or death issue, not just wounded egos or battered pride.

Al Jazeera recently reported that Facebook has been forced to apologise for its role in the deadly communal unrest that shook Sri Lanka a year ago, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Christian churches in the Easter bombing campaigns of 2019, in which 269 people were killed.

Such was the scale of the atrocity itself that the aftermath passed largely unnoticed outside Sri Lanka. An investigation has now established that hate speech and rumours spread on Facebook exacerbated the violence against Muslims.

In the online chaos that followed the bombings at least three people were killed and 20 injured in acts of reprisals. Mosques were burned and Muslim businesses were targeted. Officials have since claimed that mobs used Facebook to co-ordinate attacks, and that the platform had “only two resource persons” to review content in Sinhala, Sri Lanka’s ethnic majority language.

The report also exposed that Facebook’s algorithms had circulated and shared a vile video which maliciously claimed that Muslim café and restaurant owners were sprinkling “sterility pills” into food – with the intent to suppress the Sinhalese population – a recurring urban myth within Sri Lanka’s febrile street culture.

The Sri Lankan case proves beyond reasonable doubt that videos shared on Facebook can be traced to brutal and deadly actions in the real world.

We have gone way beyond undergraduate essays on the laws of cause and effect and those divisive court cases that seek to attribute errant teenage behaviour to video games. The Sri Lankan killings were a proven link between videos on Facebook and a spree of killings, arson and serious assault.

There are no longer any hiding places for the smart young entrepreneurs of the tech 2.0 era. They have their billions but now have to face up to the testing scrutiny of oversight. Mark Zuckerberg deserves some praise for initiating a system of oversight, but he resisted it for some time and the executive summary of the killings in Sri Lanka will not have made pleasant reading.

Unless you are a restless sociopath, it cannot be easy to fall asleep with the blood of others congealing by your bedside table.

I wish the new system of governance well in the days and years to come. I only wish it had been put in place years ago.