This file photo taken on July 4, 2019 in Nantes shows logos of the US online social media and social networking service Facebook. Facebook on May 6, 2020 announced the first members of its independent "supreme court" empowered to make binding decisions about what content should be allowed or removed at the social network and Instagram.The oversight board is to make final decisions regarding the kinds of posts known to embroil Facebook in controversy about censorship, misinformation or free speech.
AFP/Loic Venance
Facebook reveals members of its 'supreme court' for content
Glenn Chapman (Agence France-Presse) - May 7, 2020 - 9:02am

SAN FRANCISCO, United States — Facebook on Wednesday announced the first members of its independent "supreme court" empowered to make binding decisions about what content should be allowed or removed at the social network and Instagram.

The oversight board is to make final decisions regarding the kinds of posts known to embroil Facebook in controversy about censorship, misinformation or free speech.

Facebook public policy director Brent Harris described creation of the board as the "beginning of a fundamental change in the way some of the most difficult content decisions on Facebook will be made."

The 20 announced members of the panel come from various countries and include jurists, human rights activists, journalists, a Nobel peace laureate and a former Danish prime minister.

"This is a group that has a diverse set of insights, backgrounds, and beliefs but share a deep commitment to advancing human rights and freedom of expression," board director Thomas Hughes said during a phone briefing.

The board is to be expanded to 40 members. It remained unclear when the board would start hearing cases due to restrictions on gathering or traveling caused by the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Board members have met virtually and training has started, according to Hughes.

The board was first proposed by Facebook co-founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg in 2018, and the California-based internet giant has set up a foundation to fund it operating as an independent entity, Harris said.

"As the world lives through a global health crisis, social media has become a lifeline for helping people and communities to stay connected,," the board said in a blog post.

"At the same time, we know that social media can spread speech that is hateful, harmful and deceitful. In recent years, the question of what content should stay up or come down, and who should decide this, has become increasingly urgent for society."

Hughes said he was open to the board serving as an arbiter of disputes for other social media firms such as Twitter but that, for now, the focus is on filling its roster and getting into action on cases about Facebook or Instagram posts.

Not the 'internet police'

Facebook will implement the board's decisions, unless they violate law, and "respond" to guidance on policies, according to Harris.

The board said it will decide whether disputed posts comply with Facebook and Instagram policies and "values" as well as  freedom of expression within the framework of international norms of human rights regardless of the social network's corporate interests.

The board will make decisions public and report on how well Facebook obeys rulings.

Reputational costs

Zuckerberg has personally assured the board the social network will abide by its decisions, according to co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former prime minister of Denmark.

"This  board is not designed to be an echo chamber," said co-chair Catalina Botero-Marino of the Universidad de los Andes Faculty of Law in Colombia.

"Facebook would have a very high reputational cost if it doesn't carry out decisions by a body it created to resolve its thorniest problems."

Facebook cannot remove members or staff of the board, which is supported by a $130 million irrevocable trust fund.

"For the first time, an independent body will make final and binding decisions on what stays up and what is removed," Thorning-Schmidt said.

"This is a big deal; we are  basically building a new model for platform governance."

Board co-chair Michael McConnell, a university law professor and former US federal judge, said the expected volume of cases would make it impossible to consider them all.

Instead, like the US Supreme Court, the board will prioritize content removal cases that can set precedents for how Facebook should handle similar material, according to McConnell.

"We are going to have to select maybe a few flowers, or maybe they are weeds, from a field of possibilities," McConnell said.

The board plans to first focus on cases affecting large numbers of users; second on cases look to have major effect on public discourse, and then those that effect policy at the platform, he explained.

"We are not the internet police," McConnell said.

"Don't think of us as a fast action team that is going to swoop in. Our job is to consider appeals, provide an after-the-fact, deliberative second look."

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: July 9, 2020 - 3:50pm

The latest news about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms.

July 9, 2020 - 3:50pm

Viral video platform TikTok's withdrawal from Hong Kong is a savvy commercial move that sidesteps thorny privacy issues but it will not shield the app completely from accusations of collusion with China, experts say.

As Facebook, Twitter and other US tech giants risk angering China by refusing to share Hong Kong user data, Chinese-owned TikTok has also portrayed an image of principle by pulling out of the territory. 

The moves were triggered by China's imposition of a security law on Hong Kong last week aimed at quashing a democracy movement, and gives police new powers to censor the internet. —  AFP

July 8, 2020 - 7:00pm

US President Donald Trump says he is considering banning the wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok as a way to punish China over the coronavirus pandemic, remarks China described Wednesday as "a malicious smear".

TikTok has been caught up in the escalating disputes between the United States and China, with the Chinese-owned firm accused of acting as a spying tool for Beijing -- an allegation it denies.

"It's something we're looking at," Trump says during a TV interview when asked about a possible ban, according to Bloomberg News. — AFP

July 8, 2020 - 7:50am

Organizers of a Facebook ad boycott on Tuesday vow to continue their campaign, saying the social network's top executives have failed to offer meaningful action on curbing hateful content.

At a virtual meeting that included Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, the #StopHateForProfit coalition "didn't hear anything today to convince us that Zuckerberg and his colleagues are taking action," says Jessica Gonzalez of the activist group Free Press, one of the coalition members.

"Instead of committing to a timeline to root out hate and disinformation on Facebook, the company's leaders delivered the same old talking points to try to placate us without meeting our demands." — AFP

July 7, 2020 - 12:22pm

TikTok says it is stopping its popular video snippet-sharing app from working in Hong Kong due to "recent events."

The move by TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, comes as Facebook, Google and Twitter put a hold on requests by Hong Kong's government or police force for information on users, following China's imposition of a sweeping new security law. — AFP

June 30, 2020 - 2:00pm

TikTok denies Tuesday sharing Indian users' data with the Chinese government, after New Delhi banned the wildly popular app in a sharp deterioration of relations with Beijing two weeks after a deadly border clash.

"TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and have not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese government," TikTok India chief Nikhil Gandhi say in a statement.

"Further if we are requested to in the future we would not do so. We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity," he said, adding that it had been invited to a meeting with the Indian government "for an opportunity to respond and submit clarifications".

TikTok is owned by China's ByteDance and was one of 59 Chinese mobile apps banned late Monday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government. — AFP

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