The nascent Oversight Board established by Facebook last year to serve as a "Supreme Court" or final arbiter for thorny content moderation questions has just issued its first five rulings.
The Oversight Board received its first major case last week, as we previously reported, with Facebook punting the issue of Donald Trump and his still frozen account over to the independent board to decide whether he should be permanently banned. But back in December, the 20-member board took on their first slate of six cases, and on Thursday they issued their first five decisions involving cases of misinformation, hate speech, and nudity. Each case was decided by a smaller panel of board members — and one case was dismissed after a user preemptively removed their post.
In one case, the board upheld Facebook's decision to remove a post pertaining to the history of churches in Azerbaijan that were built by Armenians, because the post contained a demeaning slur against Azerbaijani people. The post was declared to contain hate speech.
In another case, the board disapproved of Facebook's automated decision to remove a post by a Brazilian woman about breast cancer, on the basis of nudity. They concluded that while Facebook restored the post, the removal itself indicated that there was inadequate human moderation taking place in the case.
Two other cases ruled that Facebook's owns guidelines on hate speech and misinformation were vague or insufficient. One referred to hydroxychloroquine as a “cure” for COVID-19, but the reference was deemed to be part of a comment about government policies and not an endorsement of the drug, and the board said that this did not rise to the level of causing "imminent harm."
Another case involved an American user comparing a mis-attributed quote by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to comments by Donald Trump ahead of the 2020 election, which was taken down by Facebook because its policy on hate speech requires that such quotes contain an explicit denouncement of a figure like Goebbels. The board ruled that "Facebook is not sufficiently clear that, when posting a quote attributed to a dangerous individual, the user must make clear that they are not praising or supporting them."
A case pertaining to a Burmese-language post about Muslims in Myanmar, which included two widely shared photos of a dead Syrian toddler, was ruled to be offensive but did not rise to the level of hate speech, the board said.
Facebook responded to the rulings by saying that would apply each precedent to other similar posts. But, as The Verge notes, no specifics were given, and the company said it would maintain strict policies about medical misinformation pertaining to COVID-19 as long as the pandemic continues. The company does plan to publish new policies pertaining to COVID-related content soon.
"It is critical for everyone to have access to accurate information, and our current approach in removing misinformation is based on extensive consultation with leading scientists, including from the CDC and WHO," said content policy vice president Monika Bickert in a statement."
As the Associated Press reports, the board will begin taking public comment on the Trump case on Friday. Co-chair Michael McConnell said in an online news conference, "All this has happened extremely recently so [board members are] at the very beginning of their work."
Photo: Barefoot Communications