Facebook Announces Its Oversight Board Is Now Accepting Cases

On Thursday, Facebook announced that its Oversight Board is now accepting cases, meaning if a user’s content from Facebook or Instagram is removed and the user has “exhausted the company’s appeal process,” the user can appeal the decision to the Oversight Board. Furthermore, Facebook can also refer cases for a decision, and in a few months, users will also be able to appeal to the Oversight Board for content they think Facebook should remove. Users will have 15 days to submit an appeal on the Board’s website once Facebook contacts them about its decision. Facebook noted that “[a]ll decisions on cases taken by the Oversight Board will be binding on the company. The Board will also be able to recommend policy changes.

Facebook purportedly created the Oversight Board after it was criticized for the way it has handled problematic content. For example, Facebook’s content moderators sued the company over job-related harm to their mental health; in response to one of these suits, Facebook proposed a $52 million settlement with content moderators. Facebook has been sued for censoring posts, falsely labeling posts as “state-controlled media,” removing and deleting content in multiple suits, monitoring communications on its Messenger app, among other purported issues.

In 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg floated the idea of an oversight board. In May, Zuckerberg announced the first 20 members of the Board, which include people from around the world, including a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, a former prime minister, former judges, and human rights advocates. In total, the Board will comprise about 40 people. However, the Oversight Board has been criticized for its apparently limited scope and because it was not up and running before people began voting in the election, as concerns about election related content arose. Facebook committed $130 million to fund the Board in a trust.  The ability to appeal to the Board will gradually roll out across the world over the next few weeks. The Board and Facebook must decide and act on a case within a 90-day period. There will also be a public comment process for cases. It is unclear how many cases the Board is expecting to hear in a year. However, it is expected that the Board will pick representative cases to set precedents and cause Facebook to update its policies.

The Board is also starting its operations in light of increasing concerns about Section 230, immunity, and the purported restriction of speech. Recently, Federal Communication Chairman Ajit Pai expressed his desire to reform Section 230, and the Department of Justice proposed legislative reform recommendations to prevent online censorship. This interest comes after the President’s Executive Order attempting to clarify Section 230.

In its blog post, the Board stated that “We expect that our decisions will address a variety of freedom of expression and human rights concerns that arise from content moderation. This includes instances where the expression of some may silence or endanger others, or in turn where expression may be threatened. The complexity and real-world implications of these cases is why the Board is composed of diverse leaders and thinkers with experience in dealing with highly challenging freedom of expression and human rights issues.”