Facebook’s oversight board’s first judgments overturns four moderation decisions

The first case to be announced by the oversight board, coded 2020-001-FB-UA, was actually withdrawn from consideration on December 3rd, 2020. In a statement, the Board said that the original post, a comment beneath which had been removed for violating Facebook’s hate speech rules, had been deleted. Because neither entry was still available on the platform, the Board opted to choose a new case, the judgment of which has not been made available today.

The remainder of the list is predominantly hate speech questions where the intent or wording was said to be more ambiguous. One individual posted an image of Nazi Joseph Goebbels, with an attributed quote describing how to appeal to emotion, rather than logic, in political communications. Facebook took the image down citing the promotion of a dangerous organization, but the poster said the image was uploaded to help identify the similarities between the fascist politics of 1930s Germany and current discourse. This case has been overturned, saying that Facebook’s rules do not specify that a user needs to make the point that they are not posting in support of that individual.

One other notable judgment is about Facebook’s policies around breasts and nipples, the posting of which is essentially outlawed on Facebook and Instagram. Case 2020-004-IG-UA is an appeal from a Brazilian individual sharing material from a campaign describing the symptoms of breast cancer (and how to identify them). Naturally, several of the images contained therein depicted breasts and nipples, which Facebook removed. The poster objected to this, since the material was hardly showing “sexual activity.”

In this instance, Facebook had already restored the post and suggested that the board should not hear the case. It decided to do so anyway, and said that a “lack of proper human oversight” does raise “human rights concerns” with moderation.

The case that replaced the first one, 2020-007-FB-FBR, relates to an image depicting a man holding a sheathed sword and a reference to drawing the sword “in response to ‘infidels’ criticizing the prophet.” The text beneath referenced French president Emmanuel Macron, who is proposing laws to curb what he describes as “Islamist separatism.” The post was withdrawn based on Facebook’s policy of incitement to violence, suggesting that it was an implied threat towards the president. This case has not, however, been dealt with today, and is expected to be published in the coming days.

Before the rulings were published, a group calling itself The Real Facebook Oversight Board decried today’s judgments. The group, counts academics, researchers and civil rights leaders including the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League and president of the NAACP amongst its members. Other notable names associated with the Real Oversight Board include early Facebook investor (and subsequent critic) Roger McNamee and Yael Eisenstat, who previously led Facebook’s election integrity efforts. 

In a statement, The Real Oversight Board said that the rulings were a “distraction from real, independent accountability,” and called the body a “PR effort” and “oversight theatre.” It added that Facebook repeatedly fails to tackle hate speech and disinformation across its platforms, enabling right wing domestic terrorists to organize themselves in the wake of the January 6th attack on the Capitol building. 

It added that the Board’s make-up, of “hand-picked experts, paid six-figures each, ruling on a limited set of harms in a non-transparent manner” is hardly democratic. It says that the lack of true independence, private hearings and long lag time between action and judgment are all signs that the system is unfit for purpose. Not to mention that the board can only examine specific cases, rather than examining “deep systemic flaws that allow harmful content to pervade Facebook’s sites[sic].”

One ruling that was not made today was the appeal made by the Trump campaign relating to the account suspension on January 6th. In a personal statement, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the dangers of allowing Trump access to his account would likely “provoke further violence.” The Oversight Board accepted the appeal on January 21st, and is likely to make a further ruling on the matter in the near future.

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Facebook’s oversight board’s first judgments overturns four moderation decisions

by govindparmar time to read: 3 min