Facebook Oversight Board Overrules Zuckerberg In Four Cases

The independent Oversight Board in charge of making the final decision about content allowed on Facebook has announced its first set of decisions.

In sign that it is not afraid to confront Facebook or its CEO Market Zuckerberg, the Oversight Board overturned four of five of its decisions to remove content, the first time it has issued such rulings since the board began hearing cases last Autumn.

Last week Facebook referred its decision to indefinitely suspend the accounts of former US President Donald Trump to its independent oversight board.

Oversight rulings

The Oversight Board announced its first rulings on Thursday, but admitted that the rulings had no easy answers and required deliberations.

The oversight board, which currently has 20 members, was created by Facebook in response to criticism of its handling of problematic content.

Members include a former prime minister, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and several constitutional law experts and rights advocates.

“Today, the Oversight Board is announcing its first decisions,” it stated. “In the five case decisions published today, the Board overturned four of Facebook’s decisions, upheld one and issued nine policy recommendations to the company. The cases covered four continents: Asia, Europe, North America and South America.”

“None of these cases had easy answers and deliberations revealed the enormous complexity of the issues involved,” it added. “In one case, Board Members looked at whether, in the context of an armed conflict, Facebook was right to remove an otherwise-permissible post because it contained a hateful slur.”

“In another, they examined whether a post accused of spreading Covid-19 misinformation contributed to imminent harm,” it said. “In several cases, Members questioned whether Facebook’s rules were clear enough for users to understand.”

The rulings concerned a range of topics from the supposed lack of reaction to the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China, compared to the violent reaction to cartoons in France; a second post about a Russian word used to describe Azerbaijanis; a third post that fell triggered adult nudity and sexual activity issues, when it included photos of breast cancer symptoms which, in some cases, showed uncovered female nipples; a fourth post that included an alleged quote from Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany; and a fifth post that triggered Facebook’s standard on violence and incitement, when it criticised the lack of a health strategy in France and included claims that a cure for Covid-19 exists.

Facebook’s Oversight Board is intended to create a new way for users to appeal content decisions on both Facebook and Instagram.

But it has a lot of work to do.

“Since we started accepting cases in October 2020, more than 150,000 cases have been appealed to the Board,” it said. “As we cannot hear every appeal, we are prioritising cases that have the potential to affect lots of users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse or raise important questions about Facebook’s policies.”

It said that each case is assigned to a five-Member panel, which included at least one Member from the region implicated in the content and a mix of gender representation.

“Today’s decisions are binding on Facebook and we will hold the company accountable for implementing them,” said the board. “Facebook now has seven days to restore content in line with the Board’s decisions.”

Oversight creation

Facebook announced an oversight board in September 2019, amid concerns about the platform hosting questionable content from certain groups.

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

In May 2020 Facebook named members of the oversight board that can overrule Mark Zuckerberg over objectionable content.

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

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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