From hate speech to nudity, Facebook’s oversight board picks its first cases

Business

Facebook Inc’s independent Oversight Board announced on Tuesday the first six cases where it could overrule the social media company’s decisions to remove certain pieces of content from its platforms.

The board, which Facebook created in response to criticism of its handling of problematic content, said it had received 20,000 cases since it opened its doors in October.

The six chosen cases are:

A screenshot of tweets by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad which said Muslims had a right to perpetrate violence against French people “for the massacres of the past.”

A post with a photo of a deceased child that included commentary on China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.

A post that purported to show historical photos of churches in Baku, Azerbaijan, with a caption that Facebook said indicated “disdain” for Azerbaijani people and support for Armenia.

Instagram photos showing female nipples that the user in Brazil said aimed to raise awareness of breast cancer symptoms.

An alleged quote from Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

The one chosen case that was submitted by Facebook, rather than a user, was a post in a group claiming certain drugs could cure COVID-19, which criticized the French government’s response to the pandemic.

The board has opened a week-long public comment period on these first cases. The cases will be reviewed by panels of five board members.

Three of the six cases involved content that Facebook removed for breaking hate-speech rules. An Oversight Board spokesman said hate-speech cases had been “the most significant proportion” of appeals received.

“Hate speech is an especially difficult area,” Jamal Greene, one of the board’s co-chairs and a professor at Columbia Law School, said. “It’s not that easy … for an algorithm to get the context of” such speech.

In November, Facebook for the first time disclosed numbers on the prevalence of hate speech on the platform, saying that out of every 10,000 content views in the third quarter, 10 to 11 included hate speech.

Greene said the cases, which also involved content removed over rules on adult nudity, dangerous individuals and organizations, and violence and incitement, raised “important line-drawing questions.” (Link here to full list of cases)

Facebook can also ask the board for nonbinding policy recommendations, but Greene said it had not yet done so.

The board, which has been criticized for its limited remit, also aims to expand its scope to hear cases from users in early 2021 about content that has been left on the site, as well as posts taken down.

This week, a group of Facebook critics dubbed “The Real Facebook Oversight Board” said it would hear three cases not yet eligible for users to take to the official oversight board, including a dispute about the Facebook account of Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former adviser.

Asked about this group, a spokeswoman for Facebook’s Oversight Board said: “Lots of people have opinions about Facebook. The Oversight Board is focused on making binding decisions and issuing policy recommendations that will hold Facebook to account.”