Oversight Board: Facebook committee presents the first six cases – and asks for help


To properly deal with hate speech and fake news on its platform, Facebook has set up an independent ethics committee. Now it presents its first cases and asks for input from the population.

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An oversight board is to act as an ethics committee to assess Facebook posts.

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It started work in December.

It started work in December.

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For example, the former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, ...

For example, the former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, …


  • Facebook’s oversight board has started work.

  • It is there to assess hardship cases on Facebook and Instagram.

  • Users can contact the board if they find that one of their posts has been wrongly removed.

  • The board now presents the first six cases and asks for input from the population.

In the fight against fake news on its website, Facebook set up a so-called oversight board this year, i.e. an ethics committee, which is supposed to deal with hardship cases. Facebook announced the first 20 members of the body back in May, including former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman and Kenyan human rights activist Maina Kiai.

The Oversight Board officially started its work in December. The aim is for users to be able to turn to the panel in case of dispute if they believe that one of their posts has been wrongly removed from Facebook. The board then discusses these cases and has 90 days to agree with Facebook’s decision or, if necessary, to reverse the deletion of the post.

First six cases

Users have submitted around 20,000 cases to the panel since October. Now, for the first time, the Board has selected six from this wealth of submissions that it would like to take a closer look at. Since these are the first cases to be officially assessed by the panel, it has decided to anonymize the cases and make them public so that input from Internet users can be obtained. When making the selection, particular attention was paid to the fact that those objections were taken into account that are relevant for as many users as possible from all over the world or are of decisive importance for the public discourse.

These cases include, for example, a post that a user from Brazil uploaded to Instagram. In this eight pictures were to be seen, which show different breast cancer symptoms. Five of these images showed clearly identifiable and uncovered female nipples. The rest of the pictures showed a bare breast, but not the nipple. Facebook removed the post for violating adult nude and sexual act guidelines. The user who uploaded the picture made it clear to the Oversight Board that the post was published as part of the “Pink October” breast cancer information campaign.

Criticism of authorities

Another user reported a post on Covid-19 that had been deleted from Facebook. The video and text contained the description of an alleged scandal involving the French regulator for health products. The authority allegedly denied approval for the use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in Covid 19 infections, but allowed advertising emails for remdesivir.

The user criticized the lack of a health strategy in France. The video was viewed around 50,000 times and shared less than 1,000 times. Facebook removed the post because it violated the Violence and Incitement to Violence Policy. The committee’s website says: “In its statement to the Oversight Board, Facebook said that the case exemplifies the problems that arise when offline damage caused by incorrect information about the corona pandemic is to be prevented.”

“Hate speech” and “dangerous people”

Another post reported to the panel shows screenshots of two tweets in which former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Muslims have “the right to be angry and kill millions of French for past massacres”. Facebook removed the post for violating its hate speech policy. However, the sender of the post objected that he was not using the post to convey his own opinion, but wanted to point out how “terrible the former prime minister’s words” were.

As a fourth post, the committee presents two photos of a dead child on a beach. The accompanying text asked why China was not being held responsible for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Reference was also made to the Syrian refugee crisis. Facebook removed the post for violating hate speech guidelines. However, the user states that his contribution is intended as a criticism of those who defend the murderer of the child and that he wants to underline that human lives are more important than religious ideologies.

The last two posts that the committee published show alleged historical photos of churches in Baku and raise the question of what happened to the churches, and they also contain an alleged quote from the Nazi propaganda leader Joseph Goebbels. The user who posted the quote argues that the content of the quote is important no matter who said it. However, Facebook removed it because it violated the policy on dangerous people and organizations.

Until December 8th

Each of these cases was assigned to a five-person panel, which now has 90 days to make a decision. As soon as this has happened, Facebook is obliged to implement it – i.e. to undo the deletion of the posts if necessary. In addition, the company must publicly comment on the Board’s proposals.

The panel’s website states: “An essential part of the oversight board’s review process is obtaining additional information and opinions from experts and organizations who can help make decisions.” It is important for the committee to bring a variety of external perspectives into the review process. To this end, the public comment system has been set up to invite experts on the topic and interested groups to contribute relevant research results and information that could help the Oversight Board review specific cases.

This public comment function is active for seven days, i.e. until December 8, 2020.

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