Oct 22, 2020 - Technology

Facebook Oversight Board begins hearing appeals

Illustration of an old-fashioned etching of a legislator with a Facebook "like" thumbs up hand

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Facebook Oversight Board announced Thursday that some Facebook and Instagram users can now submit appeals to the Oversight Board for an independent review of their own content removals.

Why it matters: The board, a first-of-its-kind internet governance body, will begin hearing cases from users ahead of the U.S. election.

  • Facebook can also begin to refer important cases to the Board for them to weigh in.
  • In some cases where there are national security or real-world consequences to content decisions, Facebook can send expedited requests for the Board to review.

Details: On a call with reporters Thursday, members from the Oversight Board explained how their review process will work and the timeline around it.

  • How it works: Users can submit appeals through the Oversight Board's website beginning Thursday. The board, independently from Facebook, will decide which cases to review. Groups of Board members will review cases, with at least one Board member from the region a case is submitted present.
  • Timeline: The rollout begins Thursday for users globally. Due to scale, it will rollout in waves. For now, users can only appeal their own content removal cases. In coming months, users can file appeals about other people's content that they want removed.
  • How cases are picked: Helle Thorning-Schmidt, co-chair of Facebook's Oversight Board said "very few'" cases will actually be heard, due to time and resource constraints. The Board will try to select cases that are representative of a broader set of cases to maximize the impact of their decisions. The Board will try to honor precedents made in previous decisions when evaluating new cases.
  • How cases are decided: The Board must come to a conclusion within 90 days or earlier. Decisions will be posted publicly to their website for the public to see. The Board will select cases to take on and will assign members of the Board to panels to review the cases. There will be around 3 panels working at a time.
  • How Facebook will react to decisions: Facebook has agreed to consider any policy recommendations made by the Board. "Our expectation is that Facebook understands the Boards' decisions to be binding on similar content that it's reviewing independently of the Board," said Jamal Greene, a constitutional law expert and Oversight Board member.

The big picture: The Board is designed to operate fully independently, but it has financial and technical support from Facebook.

  • On the call, Brent Harris, head of strategic initiatives at Facebook, said that the company has built a case management tool for the Board to use that will allow The Board to securely review user appeals with privacy in mind.
  • Facebook spent $130 million to fund to fund the Board through an independent trust.

Be smart: Even before its launch, the Board has faced scrutiny from Facebook critics that don't trust the Board to alone provide enough pressure to hold Facebook accountable for its content moderation policies.

  • Board members on the call Thursday said they expected their decisions to be scrutinized, and that they welcome public debate around them.

What's next: In the coming weeks, the Board will be able to share details about which cases it is considering and it will open up a public commenting period to support the Board's deliberation process.

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