Facebook users can now appeal to the company’s quasi-independent Oversight Board to get bad posts removed, the body has announced, in a large expansion of its role just three months after it issued its first findings.
From Tuesday, the board, which comprises 20 luminaries from the worlds of law, media and academia and includes a former editor of the Guardian and a former prime minister of Denmark, will now hear appeals from users who tried and failed to get Facebook or Instagram to remove posts.
“So far, users have been able to appeal content to the board which they think should be restored to Facebook or Instagram,” the board said in a statement. “Now, users can also appeal content to the board which they think should be removed from Facebook or Instagram. The board will use its independent judgment to decide what to leave up and what to take down. Our decisions will be binding on Facebook.”
Taking such appeals was always planned for the board, but when it launched it initially focused exclusively on wrongful removals, arguing that the problems were more narrowly constrained. Hearing appeals from people who want content removed will inevitably put the organisation in the middle of a number of vocal campaigns, over issues such as hate speech, blasphemy and misinformation.
The board is preparing for such an onslaught. “As content will be live on Facebook and Instagram, many people will be able to report the same piece of content,” it says. “In these cases, multiple user appeals will be gathered into a single case file for the board. As multiple users can report the same content, this means the board may consider multiple submissions from users on a single case.
“To protect the privacy of those appealing to the board, we will only include details in our decisions that could easily identify the person who reported the content if they have given permission for us to do so.”
As with the decision to reinstate content, Facebook has accepted that the primary decision of the board will be binding for the company. It reserves the right to accept or reject other recommendations, however. For instance, in one ruling that required Facebook to restore a post quoting Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, the board also recommended the company share more detail about its “dangerous persons” policy.
Alongside the announcement of its extended reach, the board also concluded another case, determining that Facebook was right to remove a video of a Dutch Christmas celebration featuring the controversial folk character “Black Pete”. The video, which showed two white adults in blackface and afro wigs, was removed for violating hate-speech standards.
The decision was appealed against on the grounds that such blackface is a longstanding Dutch tradition, but the Oversight Board concluded that “allowing such posts to accumulate on Facebook would help create a discriminatory environment for Black people that would be degrading and harassing”.
In the next week, the Oversight Board is expected to rule on its most prominent case to date – and likely for the foreseeable future – when it issues its decision on whether Facebook was right to remove Donald Trump from its platform in the wake of the 6 January attack on the US Congress.