Dec 1, 2020 - Technology

More than 20,000 users submit cases to Facebook oversight board

An illustration of a founding father with a Facebook hand for a thumb
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

More than 20,000 people have submitted cases to Facebook's independent Oversight Board since the board started accepting user appeals in October, the organization announced Monday, and it has selected six initial cases for review.

Why it matters: The number of submissions speaks to the multitude of people who feel the platform's moderation of their content has wronged them. The tiny number of cases getting reviewed speaks to the limits of human oversight on a platform the size of Facebook, as well as to the novelty of the board's process and the complex nature of the cases chosen.

Details: The board's six cases, each from a different country around the world, address controversial issues, ranging from terrorism to nudity, and all six represent appeals by users who want to reverse Facebook's decision to take down their posts.

  • Three of the six cases address hate speech violations, which Facebook says is one of the most prevalent forms of content removed on its platform aside from nudity.

The cases:

  • In one case, Facebook removed a user's post quoting violent rhetoric from former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, but the user says the post was intended to spread awareness of the "horrible words."
  • Another case involves a user's posting an argument about differing treatment of churches and mosques in Armenia and Azerbaijan.
  • A user in Brazil posted photos depicting breast cancer to raise awareness, but Facebook took them down because nipples were showing.
  • A quote from Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels appeared in a post by a U.S. user who says he intended it to underscore a slide toward fascism in America. Facebook removed the post under its "Dangerous Individuals and Organizations" policy.
  • The only case that was referred to the board by Facebook itself, rather than users, involves the removal of COVID-19 misinformation.

Our thought bubble: The pattern here is, users are trying to make complex points about thorny issues and Facebook keeps applying literal-minded bans.

  • The challenge for the Oversight Board will be discerning whether users are posting these arguments in good faith or trying to make end runs around Facebook's rules.

What's next: The board says that within 90 days it expects to reach decisions that Facebook must act on.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to state that over 20,000 cases were submitted, not 200,000.

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