Meta oversight board left waiting for answers on celebrity rules

The Oversight Board already sent questions to Meta Platforms Inc, the Facebook owner, but received unsatisfactory answers, Thorning-Schmidt said. — AFP

The co-chair of the board that oversees Facebook’s content moderation said the social media giant has failed to to be transparent about how it manages posts by famous people.

Former Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, on the external Oversight Board that acts as a de-facto Supreme Court for appealing Facebook’s decisions about what posts to take down, said the company hasn’t explained how famous people get protection for their content that others don’t. The Oversight Board already sent questions to Meta Platforms Inc, the Facebook owner, but received unsatisfactory answers, Thorning-Schmidt said on Bloomberg Quicktake’s Emma Barnett Meets show.

Her comments echo earlier criticism from the Oversight Board following a September report by the Wall Street Journal that revealed details about a system Facebook built to exempt high-profile users in politics, popular culture and journalism from enforcement action over posts that break their rules. The report was based on a trove of documents shared by former product-manager-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen.

The programme, known as “cross check”, was designed to help Meta avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down for rule violations – something that happens to all users more and more often as the company relies on artificial intelligence for managing content violations. While the Facebook parent told the Oversight Board the programme only affects a “small number of decisions”, the programme included at least 5.8 million users in 2020, according to the newspaper.

“There’s no doubt that we, we didn’t know enough about that,” Thorning-Schmidt said.

Thorning-Schmidt also said Meta was right to suspend former president Donald Trump’s account after he encouraged his supporters to storm the US Capitol on Jan 6 in what became a deadly attempt to stop the counting of Electoral College votes for President Joe Biden. Thorning-Schmidt said the former president wasn’t banned because he spread lies about the election but because he violated Meta’s rules barring incitement of violence.

Thorning-Schmidt added that social media companies such as Meta have faced too few regulations as they make high-stakes decisions about what content to take action on and what to leave up on their networks.

“Meta was left alone” to make “their own rules as they went along”, she said. “That is why we need regulation and we need an Oversight Board.”

The Oversight Board, while not part of Meta, is conceived by and funded by the company. Chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg wanted an external body with authority to check Meta’s work, and reverse its decisions if necessary. – Bloomberg

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