Facebook’s long-awaited oversight board has begun hearing cases about objectionable content on the social networking platform.

The Oversight Board had been expected to begin operations before the US Presidential elections on 3 November, but Facebook confirmed on Thursday that it has started accepting cases for review.

It has been a long time coming. Although Mark Zuckerberg had first mooted the idea of an oversight board, it was in September 2019 when the social network officially announced the oversight board, amid concerns about the platform hosting questionable content from certain groups.

Oversight board

The move followed pressure from governments on tech firms to crack down on hate speech and other extremist content.

In May this year Facebook named members of its content oversight board that can overrule Mark Zuckerberg over objectionable content.

These members included a former prime minister, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and several constitutional law experts and rights advocates.

The board is essentially designed to be a type of appeals body, through which Facebook and Instagram users can challenge company decisions on controversial content.

The board has the power to overrule Mark Zuckerberg on content matters and whether to take down posts. It can also recommend policy changes.

Essentially the board is designed for cases both from users who have exhausted the company’s appeals process and from Facebook itself.

Brent Harris, director of governance and global affairs confirmed the Oversight Board was now operating in a blog post.

“Starting today, if your content is removed from Facebook or Instagram and you have exhausted your appeals with Facebook, you’ll be able to appeal your case to the Oversight Board, a global body of experts separate from Facebook that will make independent and binding decisions on the cases they choose to hear,” wrote Harris.

“Facebook has committed to enforcing the Board’s decisions on individual pieces of content, and to carefully considering and transparently responding to any policy recommendations,” wrote Harris.

“The Board will make decisions on which cases to take, selecting from both cases appealed by users and cases referred by Facebook, and they will do so based on criteria laid out in their announcement today,” he added.

Users have a 15 day period after Facebook contacts them about its final decision, to appeal their case to the Oversight Board via its website.

Decisions will made within a 90 day window.

The oversight board is being funded by Facebook to the tune of $130 million.

Questionable content

Facebook has faced accusations from governments and privacy groups over the content it hosts.

President Trump for example has criticised both Facebook and Twitter, alleging they have anticonservative bias and censor rightwing voices.

Facebook, along with Twitter and Youtube, recently agreed with large advertisers to outside audits of their efforts to tackle hate speech.

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) agreement will see the platforms adopt common definitions and reporting standards for harmful content.

It comes after a number of civil rights groups that organised an advertising boycott of Facebook in July, due to concerns at hate speech on the platform.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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