June 24, 2021

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Facebook Oversight Board Gains New Powers Over Content

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Facebook users can now ask the company’s Oversight Board to review whether other users’ content should have been allowed to remain on the site.

The board was created two years ago after claims of Russian election interference, and last year broadened its remit.

Since then, when a user has disagreed with a re-reviewed decision to remove content from Facebook or Instagram, the user could make a final appeal to the Oversight Board. However, the same right of appeal wasn’t available where the company had made the decision to leave content up.

“Today’s announcement represents an expansion of the board’s initial scope,” says Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of Integrity, in a blog post.

“As originally contemplated by the Oversight Board’s bylaws, the board can now review Facebook’s decision to leave content on the platform — content eligible for appeal to the board still includes posts/statuses, photos, videos, comments, and shares.”

The reason for the delay, says Rosen, was a number of technical challenges – and in particular how to handle privacy issues.

“We had to consider, for example: how best to capture content at the time of appeal, in case the original poster edits the content later before review by the board?,” he says.

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“If the board selects a case, when should we stop allowing people to appeal that content — once selected, once a decision is being drafted, or after it is issued? How do we enable the board to sort through a larger volume of cases in an efficient way?”

Under the new system, if the board receives multiple reports relating to the same piece of content, each one will be handled individually; thus, if one appeal fails, another, on different grounds, may succeed. Once the board’s taken on a case, all users who have reported it will be kept in the loop – as, of course, will the original poster.

The board has only started issuing decisions this year. So far, it has has ordered Facebook to reinstate a picture of a nipple, posted as part of a cancer awareness campaign, as well as a post misattributed to Joseph Goebbels. Also reinstated were photos of a Syrian child who had drowned trying to reach Europe, a ‘threatening’ post in a Muslim group and a claim that a cocktail of drugs could cure Covid.

Meanwhile, the board confirmed a ban on a post deemed to be hate speech towards Azerbaijanis.

“The Oversight Board has already made a number of decisions and recommendations that have not only decided whether content stays down or is reinstated on Facebook but is already having a broader and significant impact on our content and enforcement policies and practices,” says Rosen.

“We will continue to work to bring additional types of content into the board’s scope and will provide updates in the future.”

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