Facebook oversight board chooses first cases

Facebook’s independent Oversight Board has chosen its first six cases to review.

The Oversight Board, which began accepting cases last month, is an independent body that users can appeal to if they disagree with decisions Facebook has made about their content on either Facebook or Instagram.

The first six cases being reviewed by the board are:

1. A user that posted a screenshot of two tweets by former Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in which the former prime minister stated that ‘Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past” and “[b]ut by and large the Muslims have not applied the ‘eye for an eye’ law. Muslims don’t. The French shouldn’t. Instead the French should teach their people to respect other people’s feelings.”

Facebook removed the post for violating its policy on hate speech, while the user indicated in their appeal that they shared the post to raise awareness about the former prime minister’s “horrible words.”

2. A user posted two well-known photos of a deceased child lying fully clothed on a beach at the water’s edge. The accompanying text asks why there is no retaliation against China for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, in contrast to the recent killings in France relating to cartoons.

Facebook removed the content for violating its hate speech policy. The user indicated in their appeal that the post was meant to disagree with people who think that the killer is right and to emphasise that human lives matter more than religious ideologies.

3. A user posted alleged historical photos showing churches in Baku, Azerbaijan, with accompanying text stating that Baku was built by Armenians and asking where the churches have gone. The user stated that Armenians are restoring mosques on their land because it is part of their history. The user said that the "т.а.з.и.к.и" are destroying churches and have no history. The user stated that they are against "Azerbaijani aggression" and "vandalism".

The content was removed for violating Facebook's Hate Speech policy. The user indicated in their appeal that their intention was to demonstrate the destruction of cultural and religious monuments.

4. A user in Brazil posted a picture on Instagram with a title in Portuguese indicating that it was to raise awareness of signs of breast cancer. Eight photographs within the picture showed breast cancer symptoms with corresponding explanations of the symptoms underneath. Five of the photographs included visible and uncovered female nipples. The remaining three photographs included female breasts, with the nipples either out of shot or covered by a hand.

Facebook removed the post for violating its policy on adult nudity and sexual activity. The post has a pink background, and the user indicated in a statement to the Board that it was shared as part of the national "Pink October" campaign for the prevention of breast cancer.

5. A user in the US was prompted by Facebook's "On This Day" function to reshare a "memory" in the form of a post that the user made two years ago. The user reshared the content. The post (in English) is an alleged quote from Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, on the need to appeal to emotions and instincts, instead of intellect, and on the unimportance of truth.

Facebook removed the content for violating its policy on dangerous individuals and organisations. The user indicated in their appeal to the Oversight Board that the quote is important as the user considers the current US presidency to be following a fascist model.

6. A user posted a video and accompanying text within a Facebook group related to COVID-19. In the video and text, there is a description of an alleged scandal about the Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament (the French agency responsible for regulating health products) purportedly refusing authorisation for use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin against COVID-19, but authorising promotional mail for remdesivir. The user criticises the lack of a health strategy in France and states that "[Didier] Raoult's cure" is being used elsewhere to save lives. The video was viewed approximately 50,000 times and shared under 1,000 times.

Facebook removed the content for violating its policy on violence and incitement and in its referral indicated to the Oversight Board that this case presents an example of the challenges faced when addressing the risk of offline harm that can be caused by misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 20,000 cases have been referred to the Oversight Board since launched in October.

The board also announced the launch of its public comment system which allows anyone, from the general public to subject matter experts and civil society organisations, to submit research or perspectives relating to the cases it reviews.

Facebook said that the board represents a “new chapter in online governance” and that it is committed to implementing the board’s decisions.

Decisions on the first six cases are expected to be issued over the next few months.

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