Facebook’s ‘supreme court’ is looking to expand its powers

The administrative director of the Facebook Oversight Board has said that the outside group is expected to be given greater powers in the next few months to determine which content is allowed on the social media platform, amid an appeal on behalf of former President Donald Trump to reinstate his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

In an interview published Thursday with Digital Bridge, Politico‘s transatlantic tech newsletter, Hughes said the board is in talks with Facebook to receive more powers to review potentially harmful content that remains on the platform, as well as to adjudicate on accounts suspended for breaching the company’s community standards.

Right now, the outside group can only review content that has already been removed from Facebook, according to Politico, as well as when the company refers cases involving suspended accounts to the board.

“Facebook has clearly flagged that they intend to increase the board’s powers, and the board fully intends to take those powers,” said Hughes, adding that the changes will come “within the next few months.”

“They’ve flagged that this is coming, we’re actively building it,” he said. “There are multiple other types of pieces of content, like suspensions of accounts and things like that which are coming.”

The challenge of ensuring privacy is protected when data is shared on Facebook posts still on the platform need to be ironed out before the company can share such data with the outside group, according to the Oversight Board and Facebook.

Critics of the Oversight Board question its independence from Facebook because the company has provided $130 million for the group’s operating costs, according to Politico. Others have raised doubts over why the board must negotiate with Facebook to receive greater powers to review content that remains on the platform.

“The rules for the Oversight Board mean they can’t recommend changes to Facebook’s terms and conditions,” said Damian Collins, a British lawmaker and long-time critic of the company’s handling of online content. “What we’re seeing is limited in scope.”

Thus far, the body has ruled against the tech giant in five out of six initial cases, Politico notes.

“If the board says, ‘well, this particular type of content should be allowed,’ and Facebook disagrees, the board could then construct its selection committee to find every single piece of content of that nature and simply overturn all of the decisions that Facebook takes now,” he added.

He, however, declined to comment on the upcoming Trump case, which may be announced by late March. The Oversight Board has received thousands of outside comments on whether to reinstate the former U.S. president on Facebook. The social network removed Trump after his posts around the January 6 riots on Capitol Hill, and the case focuses on whether Trump, as a political leader, should be treated differently than other Facebook users when he posts online.

The board has “already gone out publicly and requested information” about the “applicable standard for political leaders” Hughes said, without reference specifically to the Trump’s case. “Existing in international human right standards is the acknowledgement that there are different types of public figures, and the panel that is looking at this case is going to take those into consideration,” he added.

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You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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