Facebook’s court-like Oversight Board for appealing content decisions will now begin receiving cases, officials said Thursday, marking the launch of what CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised two years ago would be an independent accountability mechanism for the world’s largest social media platform.
Under the rollout, users of Facebook (FB) and Instagram will be able to challenge Facebook (FB)’s decisions to remove content that they have posted once they have exhausted the company’s internal review process. The ability to escalate cases to the board will be rolled out to users gradually.
“We recognize there are many who want the board to start hearing cases as soon as possible,” said Thomas Hughes, director of the Oversight Board. “We have all shared that ambition … our first principle has always been to ensure we take the correct steps to get this right.”
The announcement comes days before a US election in which tech companies’ handling of misinformation, hate speech and other content has been deeply scrutinized. While the Oversight Board may receive cases related to election content, it will be up to board members to decide whether to act on them — not Facebook.
“We don’t, from the Facebook side, want to add undue pressure to them,” Brent Harris, Facebook’s director of governance and global affairs, told CNN Business in an interview. “It’s really a question for them as to when are they ready.”
The effort to build the board has been long and drawn out, involving several missed deadlines. Officials have defended the process, saying they wanted to ensure it was done thoughtfully and with enough public input. But critics including civil rights groups have expressed frustration over the board’s seemingly slow process. Last month, the NAACP, Color of Change and the Anti-Defamation League joined several academics and other experts to highlight what they called an “emergency” that demanded Facebook’s urgent response.
“Facebook is already being used to suppress the Black vote in 2020,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change. “And we’ve seen all sorts of attacks on Black voters across the country. We’re seeing an unprecedented amount of disinformation and misinformation traveling across the platform.”
In preparation for the launch, Facebook this week also began identifying content cases that it plans to refer to the Oversight Board for rulings under a separate track from individual users. Company officials declined to describe the cases Facebook will ask the board to hear, but added that Facebook will proactively seek guidance from the body on difficult and significant issues related to its policies.
Thursday’s launch does not allow Facebook users to report another user’s content to the board — it covers only content that users post themselves that Facebook has removed. Once Facebook has declared a case closed, users will receive a unique content identifier that they can use to appeal their case to the Oversight Board on a separate website.
A future update will allow users to escalate third-party content, including that of other users, to the Oversight Board, said Fay Johnson, Facebook’s product lead for integrity. Another update may expand the scope of reviewable content to include groups and pages on Facebook’s platforms.
Oversight Board officials said those types of features will likely not be available before early next year.
But the stakes for that tool are high, as Facebook has come under pressure to act on material that critics view as misinformation or violations of Facebook’s own policies.
Some members of the Oversight Board cautioned that its work will likely be slow. Although Facebook can unilaterally refer cases to the board under an expedited timeframe — with decisions in as little as 30 days — the maximum amount of time that the board may take to decide most cases is 90 days.
The board “does not exist to respond to content issues in real time,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, co-chair of the Oversight Board. She added that the board “doesn’t excuse Facebook from its responsibility to act first and act fast in these situations.”