The Oversight Board, made up of 20 academics, lawyers, writers, politicians and other heavyweights from around the globe, approached its task with evident rigor. Its rulings on the posts each ran thousands of words, citing Facebook’s dense community standards guidelines as if they were case law. The group overruled Facebook in four of the five cases, involving matters of nudity, coronavirus misinformation, Nazi propaganda and hate speech.
In its findings, the board said Facebook had improperly removed posts from a user criticizing the French government for withholding an alleged coronavirus cure; one attempting to quote the Nazi official Joseph Goebbels; and one from a user in Myanmar disparaging Muslims. The board also found that an Instagram post showing nipples in the context of cancer awareness should not have been removed, a decision Facebook itself had previously reversed. The Oversight Board agreed with Facebook on its removal of a posting with a Russian slur for Azerbaijanis.
Mr. McConnell, of the board, said Facebook could decide that, for instance, posts displaying nipples in an anatomical, rather than sexual, context might still warrant removal, even when appearing to fall within the context of the Oversight Board’s intent.
“There is no obligation for them to accept any or all of our policy recommendations,” he said.
Facebook acknowledged as much, calling the board’s policy recommendations “advisory,” and saying that similar posts as those ruled on would be removed when “feasible.”
“I can only reassure you that it’s the team’s intention to follow the recommendations of the Oversight Board,” said Nick Clegg, a spokesman for Facebook. The company was given 30 days to address the policy recommendations.
The board also suggested that the company offer users more clarity about why their posts were removed, and about the ability to appeal decisions made by software to human moderators. But those, too, the company can choose to ignore.
How Facebook responds takes on great importance in just under three months when it rules on whether it was appropriate, under the company’s rules, to have banned Donald Trump from its sites. That could have vast implications for how Facebook handles political speech, particularly when world leaders spew racial invectives or misinformation about the coronavirus or voting.
But with Facebook’s tolerance for politicians and other influential users telling outright lies, it is easy to imagine the board’s ruling on Mr. Trump being narrowly applied so that, for instance, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, can continue promoting unproven coronavirus treatments. The company bent over backward to accommodate Mr. Trump until it was politically expedient to turn on him.