Posted on September 24, 2020

Facebook ‘Supreme Court’ to Begin Work Before US Presidential Vote

Leo Kelion, BBC, September 24, 2020

Facebook’s Oversight Board is “opening its doors to business” in mid-October.

Users will be able to file appeals against posts the firm has removed from its platforms, and the board can overrule decisions made by Facebook’s moderators and executives, including chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

The timing means that some rulings could relate to the US Presidential election, which is on 3 November.

But one member of the board told the BBC it expected to act slowly at first.

“In principle, we will be able to look at issues arising connected to the election and also after the election,” Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former Prime Minister of Denmark, explained.

“But if Facebook takes something down or leaves something up the day after the election, there won’t be a ruling the day after.

“That’s not why we’re here. We’re here to take principled decisions and deliberate properly.”

Earlier this week, Facebook’s global affairs chief Nick Clegg told the Financial Times that if there was an “extremely chaotic and, worse still, violent set of circumstances” following a contested election result, it would act aggressively to “significantly restrict the circulation of content on our platform”.

In theory, the 20-person panel – which has been likened to the US Supreme Court – could force the firm to reverse some of its judgements.

Ms Thorning-Schmidt said that the board had the capacity to examine “expedited cases” but preferred not to do so in its early days.

‘Give us two years’

Facebook first announced its plans to set up the Oversight Board a year ago, and it has taken until now to select its members and arrange how it will work in practice.

The members will be paid an undisclosed sum, but are intended to serve as an independent body, and will decide which cases to look into.

Their work will cover Facebook’s main platform as well as the photo-centric app Instagram, which the company owns.

In addition to user complaints, the board can also examine issues that the company has raised itself.

Facebook has said it expects cases to be resolved within 90 days, including any action it is told to take.
The panel’s decisions are supposed to be binding and set a precedent for subsequent moderation decisions.

Critics of the scheme have suggested it is a “fig leaf” designed to help Facebook avoid being regulated by others.

But Ms Thorning-Schmidt said it was too early to write it off.

“It would be much better if the global community in the UN [United Nations] could come up with a content moderation system that could look into all social media platforms, but that is not going to happen,” she said.

“So this is the second best.

“Give us two years to try to prove that it is better to have this board than not to have this board.”