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‘Won’t shy away from tough cases’: Facebook Oversight Board in response to questions about platform’s bias

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Facebook’s Oversight Board has said that cases that consider how the company treats hate speech content from public figures are within its scope. Such cases “are the type of highly challenging cases that the board expects to consider when we begin operating”, the Board said in a statement to MediaNama. Economic Times first reported it.

In a statement to MediaNama, the Board said that it “is empowered to make binding and independent decisions on many of the most challenging content issues on Facebook and Instagram, and we are committed to protecting users and holding Facebook accountable”.

The Board’s response come in light of allegations made in a recent Wall Street Journal report which said that Facebook had refused to take down hate speech content by leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for fear of hurting its commercial interests in India. The report attracted considerable attention across the country. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has summoned Facebook representatives on September 2, when the matter is likely to be discussed.

While the Board said it would not shy away from tough cases and holding Facebook accountable, it refused to specify when the it would start hearing cases. “The Board is working hard to become operational and expects to begin to hear cases in the coming months,” the Board’s statement to us read.

Meanwhile, a Facebook spokesperson told MediaNama that members of the Oversight Board were currently undergoing training on the company’s community standards, policy development processes and enforcement frameworks, and the types of content decisions that fall under its scope. “Since the first members were announced in May, Facebook has been focused on getting the board up and running as soon as possible and has not announced any new members. In conjunction with the Oversight Board, we hope to announce new members later this year,” the spokesperson said.

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Facebook’s Oversight Board was first proposed in November 2018, as an independent body that would essentially act as a self-regulator for the company. In May 2020, the board announced its first 20 members, which include Sudhir Krishnaswamy, vice chancellor of the National Law School of India University. Other members included Micheal McConnell, director of Constitutional Law Center, Stanford Law School and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former prime minister of Denmark. Once fully-staffed, the board will consist of 40 members, according to its website. All members are independent from Facebook and all other social media companies, and the decisions of this external Oversight Board will be “final and binding”.

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