Will Facebook’s Coming ‘Oversight Board’ See it Change its Approach on Political Content?

As Facebook continues to grapple with tough questions around what should and should not be allowed on its platforms, its new Content Oversight Board, which will help relieve some of the pressure on Zuck and Co. around such rulings, is still working through its initial training and onboarding phase, which has been slowed slightly by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the Oversight Board is watching over the current situation:

“The events in the United States have been deeply painful to watch for all our Members. As an organization with a global scope and focus on free expression and human rights, we recognize that many communities around the world are confronting other crises at this moment, but it is impossible to ignore what is happening on the streets of US cities.”

Eventually, the Oversight Board, which is made up of a range of experts in various fields, including civil rights, constitutional law and politics, will help Facebook determine the best way forward on its content rulings, which will include those relating to content posted by political leaders. 

But while Facebook could use that additional insight right now, it’s not ready yet.

‘We are not in an immediate position to make decisions on issues like those we see unfolding today,’ the board says, but:

“When the Board goes operational, we will not shy away from tough decisions and intend to act without consideration of Facebook’s economic, political or reputational interests. We are not here to defend Facebook and will be transparent in the decisions we make and the changes we call on the company to make to protect free expression, users and society.”

As present, the Board is going through the final stages of training, which includes instructions on the new Case Management Tool that Facebook has created to facilitate the Board’s work. The Board expects to be up and running by the end of this year – which could mean that it will be in place in time for the US Election, and the various rulings that will likely be required in the election campaign.

It could end up providing a significant boost to Facebook’s efforts in this respect – and it may well be that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is currently deferring any significant changes in its existing policies on such until the Board is operational. 

But then again, Facebook will always have the capacity to overule the Board’s decisions.  

As the Board notes:

“The Oversight Board was created to make binding and independent decisions on the most challenging content issues on Facebook and Instagram. As such, how Facebook treats posts from public figures that may violate their community standards are within the scope of the Board, and are the type of highly challenging cases that the Board expects to consider when we begin operating in the coming months.”

But as has been also explained previously:

“Facebook is committed to implementing the board’s decision on individual pieces of content within seven days, as outlined in the bylaws. Facebook will also assess the technical and operational feasibility of applying the decision to identical content with parallel context. When the board provides an additional policy recommendation, Facebook will review that guidance.”

So Facebook is only committing to action on individual posts, it won’t necessarily have to implement any policy changes as the Board advises.  

Still, it will add an extra check to Facebook’s process, and could end up being a significant difference-maker in issues like those the platform is currently facing.

We’ll have to wait and see how that relationship works in practice, but for those calling for change, it may still be coming – even if Zuckerberg himself is standing firm on his position.

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