May 11, 2022 - Technology

Facebook withdraws guidance request for Ukraine war content policies

Drawing of a judge with a Facebook thumb over his hand.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook parent Meta on Wednesday said it would be withdrawing its earlier request for policy guidance from the independent Oversight Board it helped create and fund on its content moderation decisions related to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Why it matters: Meta says it's withdrawing the request due to "ongoing safety and security concerns," but it didn't specify what those concerns were, or why they would prohibit it from moving forward with the request.

  • This is the first time Meta has revoked a policy guidance request to the board.

Details: In a statement, Meta said it stands by its efforts related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine "and believe we are taking the right steps to protect speech and balance the ongoing security concerns on the ground."

  • It reiterated steps it has taken to combat misinformation around the war, including establishing a special operations center to monitor its platforms and adding new safety features in Ukraine and Russia.

What they're saying: In response, the board said that it understands Meta's concerns but is "disappointed" by the company’s decision.

  • The board also noted the request withdrawal "does not diminish Meta’s responsibility to carefully consider the ongoing content moderation issues which have arisen from this war, which the Board continues to follow. "

The big picture: Meta, then Facebook, established the Oversight Board in 2019 following years of criticism over inconsistencies in how it moderates content on its platform.

  • Case decisions from the board are binding, meaning Meta is responsible for implementing them, but policy recommendations from the board are not.
  • The company began referring its first set of cases over to the board in 2021, and the board published its first set of decisions in January, overturning Facebook's original action in four of the five cases it chose to review out of 20,000 cases submitted.
  • To date, Meta and the hoard have worked well together publicly, with Meta referring cases and promising to implement the binding decisions while considering the recommendations.

Our thought bubble: Meta established the board to help guide its decision-making around content moderation, especially in thorny situations like wars, where real-time events are often misinterpreted and misconstrued for political purposes.

  • Meta's withdrawal of the policy advisory opinion request that it sent to the Oversight Board last month undermines the ability of the board to help guide the tech giant's decision-making, as it sets a precedent for Meta to continue withdrawing requests in the future.
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