What is the Oversight Board?
Facebook quietly announced the creation of an Oversight Board last year. “The purpose of the board is to promote free expression by making principled, independent decisions regarding content on Facebook and Instagram” (www.oversightboard.com).
Over the years, Facebook has been criticised for being quite aggressive in its policy review and its quite insular view of the social media space. This is Facebook’s attempt to be more transparent and allow people to appeal decisions Facebook may have made in regards to content on its platforms and whether those decisions should be upheld or overturned.
Who is the Board made up of?
It is made up of 20 members from around the world in a range of sectors and backgrounds to try to create a truly diverse and unbiased ball – some examples are Helle Thorning Schmidt, the former Prime Minister of Denmark, Nighat Dad, Founder of the Digital Rights Foundation in Pakistan and Sudhir Krishnaswamy, Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Law at the National Law School of India University.
The goal is to get this to 40 members in future; but this impressive mix of people is designed to give a genuinely representative and independent forum for brands, people and advertisers to appeal to Facebook’s decisions.
What have they done so far?
Last month marked the release of the first Board Oversight report. The report breaks down the Board feedback into the binding and non-binding issues. 26 cases were referred to the Board – the report outlines 5 of those cases. It also mentions the decision to upload Donald Trump’s ban from the platform which is linked externally to the report.
- Breast Cancer and nudity in Facebook and Instagram posts – Facebook recognised the need to improve algorithms where nudity was illustrated for the purposes of educating users about Breast Cancer and accepts it needs to be better.
- Armenians in Azerbaijan – the Board advised that Facebook be more transparent on the policy breach a user is accused of when posts are removed, and Facebook recognizes they need to be better here.
- Nazi quote – as above.
- A case about supposed COVID-19 cures – Hydroxychloroquine, Azithromycin, and COVID-19 – A post discussing how Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin are curing to COVID-19 and criticism of the French government was taken down by Facebook as it violated its policy. However, the Board overturned this decision and advised that Facebook provides access to verified information regarding COVID-19 which has now been done.
- A case of a veiled threat based on religious beliefs – a post with “veiled” violence to Muslims in India which was taken down by Facebook. The Board overturned the decision to Facebook reinstated the posts but added language as well as imagery to the policy terms and conditions as per the Board’s recommendations.
- A case about the decision to indefinitely suspend former US President Donald Trump’s account – On May 5, 2021, the board upheld Facebook’s decision. However, the board criticised the nature of the suspension to which Facebook is now looking to improve their process.
It’s worth keeping an eye on the news section on the Oversight Board’s page to keep on top of the cases they are reviewing. We of course welcome Facebook’s drive to be transparent and accountable as well as giving more information about policy violations where their algorithms can be flawed on picking this up. Definitely, one to watch.
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