Facebook moves to launch Oversight Board just before U.S. election

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Facebook Inc’s long-delayed independent Oversight Board plans to launch in mid-late October, just before the November U.S. presidential election, although a board member said he did not know whether it would hear cases related to the contest.

The board, created by Facebook in response to criticism of its handling of problematic content, will initially have the power to review decisions to take down posts from Facebook and Instagram, and recommend policy changes.

Oversight Board member Alan Rusbridger told Reuters in an interview the board was now aiming for an October launch. A spokesman confirmed that the late launch, originally planned for last year, had been further slowed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Rusbridger said he did not know whether the board would hear cases about content connected to the U.S. presidential election, but he said cases involving President Donald Trump’s posts were not among those that the board had looked at for trial runs.

“We haven’t done a Trump case,” said Rusbridger, a former editor-in-chief of Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “We have done a nudity case, we’ve done a blasphemy case.”

Facebook faced employee backlash in recent months over its decision to take no action over posts from Trump containing misleading claims about mail-in voting and inflammatory language about anti-racism protests. Its smaller rival Twitter, by contrast, attached fact-checking labels and warnings to the same posts.[L1N2DE0RJ]

Tech watchdog Accountable Tech, which launched a campaign asking the board’s members to demand “real authority” or resign, said in a statement on Thursday the launch would be “too late to address Facebook’s deficiencies ahead of the election.”

The board will initially review only appeals over posts that Facebook has taken down, rather than content the company decides to leave up. Some experts say that means it will be of little use in addressing problems such as misinformation and hate speech.

It will also at first only deal with individual posts, not Facebook ads, or groups.

Rusbridger said the board had not yet made any changes to its remit.

Rusbridger declined to comment on Facebook’s policy of exempting politicians’ speech and ads from its third-party fact-checking program, though he said: “I can’t imagine we won’t have a case brought to us on that.”

“WIDER RESONANCE”

Since the first 20 members of the board were announced in May, they have had virtual meetings to discuss issues such as how to select cases and deal with minority opinions, Rusbridger said.

Potential cases will come to the board from users who have exhausted the appeals process, or be sent over from Facebook. Deciding and implementing rulings can take up to 90 days, although Facebook can ask for them to be expedited within 30 days, including in cases with “urgent real-world consequences”.

Rusbridger said the board would be looking for cases with “wider resonance”, though precedents set by decisions on individual posts will not be binding on future cases.

Facebook can also ask the board for policy recommendations though it does not have to act on them, a framework that was criticized by some U.S. Democratic lawmakers.

The board, which includes a former Danish prime minister, a Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize laureate, law experts and rights advocates from around the world, is expected to grow to a group of 40 members.

Rusbridger said the board was thinking about how it will select these candidates but was not yet choosing more members.