Facebook establishes oversight board to review content moderation decisions

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Article
19 May 2020

Experts weigh in on Facebook’s new Oversight Board

Author: Mathew Ingram, Columbia Journalism Review

[Rebecca] MacKinnon [founding director of Ranking Digital Rights]... noted that while the board’s membership is illustrious, “it cannot stop the exploitative collection and sharing of user data, or stop the company from deploying opaque algorithms that prioritize inflammatory content to maximize engagement.”... Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University’s journalism school... said she is concerned that the board’s ambit is restricted (at least for the time being, it can’t hear cases involving advertising or the algorithm, and can’t discuss content that has been left up, only content that has been taken down)... [and] he fact that the board is stacked with experts in constitutional law and human rights means that those people can no longer participate in broader discussions about regulating platforms like Facebook...

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Article
7 May 2020

Commentary: Facebook's Oversight Board deserves time to succeed & raises questions incl. what impact it may have industry-wide

Author: David Kaye, Just Security

"The Republic of Facebook: With the naming of oversight board members, what kind of institution will this become?" 6 May 2020

... Do social media companies have the power of governance?... How did we get here, to this place where companies so dominate public speech, causing so much friction with governments and the public, and yet, as Chinmayi Arun describes so well, they must create their own mechanisms of self-regulation?... Why should private companies be making, and then overseeing, the decisions that have such impact on public life?

... Among the key questions will be just how far the board is willing to go in taking decisions that undermine the company’s business interests, just how broad a scope it believes it has, just how independent from Facebook it is.... The Oversight Board deserves time to succeed... [but] will not have jurisdiction over the legal demands imposed by governments... And as laudable as Facebook’s effort is, it only solves Facebook’s problems of legitimacy. That is, it could help legitimize Facebook decisions but cannot legitimize content-moderation choices by all platforms... Over time, an industry-wide process would build trust in content moderation and push them all toward transparency and respect for the public impact they have. It may even be that the Facebook Oversight Board could expand to take on that kind of industry-wide role... Governments are chomping at the bit of regulation, seeking to impose content rules that the platforms must follow. Will self-regulation, even with tools like the Oversight Board, block that momentum? Will the Oversight Board spur the company and others to greater transparency, to enable genuine democratic oversight and control?

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Article
6 May 2020

Commentary: We are the new board at Facebook. Here's what we'll decide.

Author: Catalina Botero-Marino, Jamal Greene, Michael W. McConnell & Helle Thorning-Schmidt, The New York Times

Over the past 18 months, more than 2,000 experts and other relevant parties from 88 countries have contributed feedback that has shaped the development of this oversight board, which will have 20 members (ultimately growing to 40) and is scheduled to become operational this year. The oversight board will focus on the most challenging content issues for Facebook, including in areas such as hate speech, harassment, and protecting people’s safety and privacy. It will make final and binding decisions on whether specific content should be allowed or removed from Facebook and Instagram.

... The board members come from different professional, cultural and religious backgrounds and have various political viewpoints. Some of us have been publicly critical of Facebook; some of us haven’t... We are all independent of Facebook. And we are all committed to freedom of expression within the framework of international norms of human rights... The oversight board’s operations are funded by a $130 million trust fund that is completely independent of Facebook and cannot be revoked. Board members will serve fixed terms of three years, up to a maximum of three terms... Over the coming months, we will lay out how we prioritize and select cases for review. Once a case has been chosen, it will be considered by a panel with a rotating set of members. All panel decisions will be reviewed by the entire board before they are finalized, and if a majority of members disagree with a decision, they can ask a new panel to hear the case again.

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Article
6 May 2020

Commentary: Why I'm joining Facebook's Oversight Board

Author: Alan Rusbridger, Medium

Facebook’s operating principle is to move fast and break things. In creating this Oversight Board, the company has proceeded extremely slowly and tiptoed over eggshells. I am told there were more than 2,000 conversations to put together a board that was suitably global, diverse, eclectic, independent, and experienced... 

The global Covid-19 crisis we’re currently living through exemplifies the mortal dangers of a world of information chaos. Societies and communities can’t function unless there is some consensus around facts and truth. And the coronavirus is, in some ways, merely a dress rehearsal for the even greater challenges of climate change.

At the same time, there is a crisis of free expression — with oligarchs, populist leaders, and some corporations trying to delegitimize and repress the voices of those who would challenge them. Finally, there is a crisis of journalism: both the economic model which sustains it, and in the generally low levels of trust much of it enjoys... Facebook sits at the heart of these interlocking crises... it needs independent, external oversight... The balancing of free expression with the need for a better-organized public square is one of the most urgent causes I can imagine.

... Harvard academic, Dipayan Ghosh, believes the Oversight Board’s powers are too narrowly drawn... “We need oversight of the company’s data practices to promote consumer and citizen privacy,” he has written, adding: “oversight of the company’s strategic acquisitions and data governance to protect against anticompetitive practice; and oversight of the company’s algorithmic decision — making to protect against bias.”

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Article
6 May 2020

Facebook announces members of independent oversight board, includes former Danish Prime Minister & Special Rapporteurs

Author: Jane Wakefield, BBC

"Facebook's 'supreme court' members announced," 6 May 2020

Facebook has announced who will sit on an independent board, set up to have ultimate say over what controversial content should be taken down. Former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt will co-chair the panel with three others... Initially consisting of 16 members, there are plans to expand numbers to 40. It will begin hearing cases later this year. At first this will just be deliberating on content that individuals feel has been wrongfully removed but, in following months, it will also look at appeals from users who want Facebook to remove content... Panellists will also review content referred to it directly by Facebook, and will be able to make policy recommendations based on its decisions. All decisions will be made public.

... The board will concentrate on cases that affect large numbers of users, and those which affect public discourse or raise specific questions about Facebook's policy. Members are a mix of journalists, judges, digital rights activists and former government advisers from around the globe, including:

  • Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei - a human rights advocate who works on women's rights and media freedom across Africa...
  • Nighat Dad - a digital rights advocate, based in Pakistan...
  • Ronaldo Lemos, a lawyer who co-created a national internet rights law in Brazil... 

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Article
29 January 2020

Facebook proposes bylaws for Oversight Board's operations & procedures

Author: Brent Harris, Facebook

"Preparing the way forward for Facebook's Oversight Board," 28 Jan 2020

The bylaws set the rules for the board’s operations and procedures, and while we’ve taken inspiration from traditional corporate and non-profit bylaws, this document reflects the unique arrangement between the Oversight Board, Facebook and the Oversight Board Trust. They spell out the authorities and responsibilities of each entity, as well as the role of the people who use Facebook’s services. Once approved by the board, the bylaws will govern the board’s day-to-day operations... We are also building a case management tool that will ensure user privacy and provide secure access for board members to review case information... Facebook is committed to implementing the board’s decision on individual pieces of content within seven days... Facebook will also assess the technical and operational feasibility of applying the decision to identical content with parallel context, as explained in the bylaws... Facebook will provide a public response regarding any policy recommendations and follow-on action within 30 days... An important piece of feedback that we incorporated from our global consultation was that the board should have a dedicated staff... [W]e’re announcing that the first Director of Oversight Board Administration will be Thomas Hughes, former Executive Director for Article 19.

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Article
29 January 2020

Ranking Digital Rights finds Facebook Oversight Board bylaws reflect improved remedy but do not sufficiently center human rights

Author: Ranking Digital Rights

Facebook released the highly anticipated bylaws for its Oversight Board, the soon-to-launch independent body that will allow users to appeal the company’s content moderation decisions before independent panels of policy experts... We at RDR think this experiment in internet governance shows real progress toward new models of content moderation that protect and promote human rights. The bylaws reflect improved remedy with binding results, establish commitments to disclose data, and implement some of the recommendations of a third-party human rights review commissioned by Facebook... But there is significant room for improvement. First and foremost, human rights norms could play a much larger role in both the bylaws and the Charter... We recognize the progress from the draft Charter, which makes no reference to human rights norms, to the final Charter and bylaws, where the Board’s decision-making process includes assessing the impact of content removal on the right to free expression. But this neither covers the full spectrum of human rights... The bylaws also fail to adequately acknowledge the role of algorithms in promoting and amplifying problematic speech.

... In December, Facebook also announced the creation of an independent trust tasked with supporting the regular operations of the Oversight Board, and shared an independent human rights review of the emerging body. RDR welcomes both announcements... [T]he risk of bias remains, as Facebook alone is responsible for selecting and appointing the trustees as well as the initial officers of the Oversight Board. [RDR's full response is available here.]

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Article
28 January 2020

Facebook appoints former Article 19 Executive Director Thomas Hughes to lead administrative staff of new Oversight Board

Author: Sam Shead, BBC

Facebook has picked British human rights expert Thomas Hughes to lead administrative staff of its new oversight board. The independent board - first announced last September - will have the power to override Facebook decisions on contentious material. It will review videos, photos, and other content that Facebook removes... "The job aligns with what I've been doing over the last couple of decades which is promoting the rights of users and freedom of expression," [Hughes] said... Facebook, which will fund the board and its staff for at least six years, has also proposed a set of rules for the board to follow. The "by-laws" will need to be approved by the board before they are set in stone.

... "He [Hughes] will face enormous challenges making Facebook's oversight board credible," said Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group... "Facebook needs to grant the board powers to scrutinise the whole procedures within their content moderation process, not just adjudicate certain troubling decisions... The Facebook oversight board is an important and long-overdue initiative, but it's also going to be very easy for it to be constrained and less effective than is necessary. Facebook, after all, mediates the speech of billions. Holding its decisions to account is a massive task."

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Article
13 December 2019

BSR releases human rights review of Facebook's Oversight Board

Author: Dunstan Allison-Hope, Michaela Lee & Joanna Lovatt, BSR

The purpose of our human rights review is to inform the governance and operations of the Oversight Board such that it is consistent with human rights-based approaches, principles, standards, and methodologies... One important challenge [is that while]... efforts to provide access to remedy in other industries typically meet the needs of a limited number of rightsholders... the Facebook Oversight Board needs to meet the needs of billions of rightsholders.

... Three high-level insights emerged: 

  1. We determined that all human rights... can be impacted by content decisions...[thus] it will be important for the Oversight Board to understand the various human rights impacts at stake in each case.
  2. The Oversight Board can help prevent and mitigate future human rights harms through both policy recommendations to Facebook and through the action Facebook takes to implement Oversight Board decisions...
  3. ... [I]t will be important for the Oversight Board to have a mechanism to identify novel cases, emerging trends, and cases that may become more prevalent or severe alongside upcoming social, political, or economic developments. This will enable the Oversight Board to proactively address areas of risk.

... BSR undertook the human rights review at the same time that Facebook created the Oversight Board, thus enabling Facebook to integrate many of our recommendations...The result is an Oversight Board more consistent with human rights... While many companies have created advisory committees to provide guidance on human rights topics, to our knowledge, no company has ever established an independent body in this way... [and] it represents a significant innovation in the field of business and human rights.

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Article
17 September 2019

Facebook releases charter explaining structure & governance of Oversight Board

Author: Facebook

"Establishing structure and governance for an independent oversight board," 17 Sept 2019

... We’re announcing more details on the structure of the Oversight Board and its relationship to Facebook in the form of a charter. This central governing document defines the board’s mandate and describes its relationship to Facebook... We often received a key piece of feedback: make sure the board is independent from Facebook. One way we’re addressing this is by establishing an independent trust. The Oversight Board, the trust and Facebook will have separate roles and responsibilities... Both Facebook and its users will be able to refer cases to the board for review. For now, the board will begin its operations by hearing Facebook-initiated cases. The system for users to initiate appeals to the board will be made available over the first half of 2020.

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