Sep 25, 2020 - Technology

Facebook critics take on its Oversight Board

Illustration: Aida Amer/Axios

A group of high-profile Facebook critics on Friday announced the launch of what they are calling the "Real Facebook Oversight Board," an effort that aims to counter an independent board established by Facebook last year to oversee its decisions on content moderation.

Why it matters: The opposing effort represents how political the fight between Facebook and its critics has become in the lead-up to the presidential election. 

Driving the news: The group includes leaders from the Stop Hate for Profit boycott, like Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, as well as prominent Facebook critics like Roger McNamee and some journalists and pundits.

  • The new oversight board rival cites an "urgent threat to democracy" leading up to its launch. It criticizes the independent oversight board, funded by Facebook, for its delayed launch.
  • The board is billing its formation as an "emergency response" to urgent issues like voter suppression, election security and misinformation.
  • The first of its meetings — which appear to be more like media events than deliberations on content decisions — will be held next week, broadcast on Facebook Live, with New York Times columnist Kara Swisher hosting.

Between the lines: The response comes just after the actual Facebook-funded appeals board announced that it would be launching earlier than expected.

  • "We are currently testing the newly deployed technical systems that will allow users to appeal and the Board to review cases. Assuming those tests go to plan, we expect to open user appeals in mid to late October," said an Oversight Board spokesperson.
  • "Building a process that is thorough, principled and globally effective takes time and our members have been working aggressively to launch as soon as possible."

A document obtained by Axios that appears to be a pitch deck for the project alleges that the Facebook-funded oversight board is "little more than a corporate whitewashing exercise."

  • It suggests that the new effort will rely heavily on driving media awareness around issues like voter suppression, election security and misinformation.
  • "We will use stunts, viral video, celebrity endorsement and skillful media management to throw a spotlight on the real-time threats to democracy from the misuse of social media platforms and big tech," the document says.
  • "We know how to make a noise," it continues. "Democracy needs its own PR team and creative agency. We are it."

The big picture: Pressure on Facebook to address misinformation and hate speech on its platform has increased ahead of the election.

  • Last week, the Stop Hate for Profit organization, a nonprofit aimed at pressuring social media companies to tackle hate speech and misinformation, entered the second phase of its boycott, targeting Facebook specifically. It worked to get dozens of celebrities to freeze their Instagram and Facebook accounts for one day.
  • The Financial Times reported Thursday that advertisers had struck a deal with Facebook and YouTube to address harmful content.

The bottom line: The tension between Facebook and accountability groups is increasing ahead of the election, and the company's independent oversight board is the latest target.

  • "Many groups have strong opinions on how Facebook should moderate content, and we welcome new efforts to encourage debate. The members of the Oversight Board are focused on building an institution that will make binding decisions on Facebook's most significant content issues," an Oversight Board spokesperson said.
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