UPDATED 22:36 EDT / JANUARY 28 2021

POLICY

In its first rulings, Facebook’s Oversight Board overturns four of five cases

Facebook Inc.’s Oversight Board has ruled that four of five cases where Facebook had taken down content should be reversed.

Almost a year ago to the day, Facebook announced that it would soon start implementing a third-party review board to oversee its decisions regarding what it removes from the platform, although it wasn’t until December that the first cases were chosen.

Facebook said then that the group of academics, media specialists and human rights advocates, would be tasked with looking at five cases that were of “critical importance,” cases that spanned Asia, Europe, North America and South America.

Out of the five, one case where Facebook’s decision was overturned was content from Myanmar that criticized Muslims for not doing enough to protect Uyghur Muslims in China. The poster wrote something along the lines that the mindset of Muslims was wrong, but after review, the board decided that given the context of the post, it did not “advocate hatred or intentionally incite any form of imminent harm.”

Another decision that was overturned was one that had violated Facebook’s Community Standard on Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity. The post, made in Brazil, included photos of uncovered female nipples, although the content related to breast cancer awareness. “The incorrect removal of this post indicates the lack of proper human oversight which raises human rights concerns,” wrote the board. “The detection and removal of this post was entirely automated.”

Another overturned decision compared Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, to the presidency of Donald Trump. Although Goebbels is on Facebook’s list of dangerous individuals, the post itself was merely making comparisons regarding the nature of propaganda and not inciting hatred.

The last overturned decision related to COVID-19 and a poster writing about a possible cure and expressing anti-government policy. “Facebook’s decision did not comply with international human rights standards on limiting freedom of expression,” said the board, given that Facebook has the tools to provide more information.

The only upheld decision centered on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The post had been removed for hate speech, which the board felt was true given that a slur was used to dehumanize Azerbaijanis.

“Today’s decisions are binding on Facebook and we will hold the company accountable for implementing them,” wrote the board. “Facebook now has seven days to restore content in line with the Board’s decisions.” Facebook will also have to review other cases that could be compared to the ones overturned.

In a blog post, Facebook said it had already restored the content, although the breast cancer post was actually restored last year. The company admitted its algorithm had made a mistake.

Photo: Marco Paköeningrat/Flickr

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