In anticipation of the Facebook Oversight Board start
The long-awaited launch of Facebook’s new ‘Oversight Board’ is expected to happen this month. The company’s attempts to self-regulate are often criticised due to the lack of transparency about policies, more particularly the lack of clear rules about the removal of some offensive posts but not of others. The Board’s creation is viewed as an attempt to address these concerns and to boost the public image of the biggest online social network.
Activists who have created a rival, unofficial “Real Oversight Board” express their opinion that the ‘official’ Oversight Board is “weak and insufficient” and a “PR vehicle”. Critics also go further to claim that the Board will probably not be ready to issue decisions before the 2020 US Presidential elections.
It is worth to sketch the Board’s powers once again. It will have the competence to adjudicate over content moderation decisions made by Facebook in respect of complaints or violations of its Community Standards. “The goal of our Community Standards has always been to create a place for expression and give people voice…Building community and bringing the world closer together depends on people’s ability to share diverse views, experiences, ideas and information” Facebook states. The concrete purpose of the Standards is to govern what content is allowed on the platform. These rules enable offensive content which may not cross the line in terms of being unlawful – e.g cyber-bullying and fake news – to be removed on the basis of the conclusion that it is harmful to society. However, the Oversight Board will have the power to reverse decisions made by Facebook’s moderators.
According to the Oversight Board’s bylaws, the Board will aim to “protect free expression by making principled, independent decisions about important pieces of content and by issuing policy advisory opinions on Facebook’s content policies”. A previous draft of the bylaws empowered the board to act only when moderators had removed content, but not where moderators allowed content to remain on Facebook. This provision was subject to criticism due to the fact that many of Facebook’s most high-profile controversies had stemmed from its refusal to remove problematic content. As a result, the Oversight Board now has the power to review all decisions “in instances where people disagree with the outcome of Facebook’s decision and have exhausted appeals”. Facebook’s moderators can also submit requests for review.
According to the Charter, the Board can choose which requests to review and its goal will be to prioritise cases that “have the greatest potential to guide future decisions and policies.” The rationale is that the board’s decisions should set precedents that will provide guidance for Facebook’s moderators. The Board’s competence is policy competence since the body does not have the power to take cases “where the board’s decision could result in criminal liability or regulatory sanctions”. Given the scope of regulations such as the GDPR, this could potentially exclude a lot of cases from the Board’s remit. The timeframe for case decisions and
implementation is a maximum of 90 days starting from Facebook’s last decision on the case under review.
Facebook is often criticised for being slow to respond to complaints. For example, Facebook recently has been attacked for its delay to act on complaints about a militia group which was linked to a shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Ninety days is also a long period in the context of national elections. Belated decisions about political posts could also mean they have very little impact. Another potential shortcoming is that the Oversight Board may decline to rule on decisions when there is a chance that these could attract the attention of regulators or criminal authorities. There are many questions but no conclusive answers.
The creation of the Oversight Board is the first step in the direction of strengthening FB regulation but further steps are still needed to make regulation really effective.
Compiled by Media 1 Foundation from: