An independent panel created in part to stop Facebook from censoring content now has the ability to remove posts in response to user complaints, the company announced Tuesday.
Facebook created the Oversight Board in October 2020, in response to complaints that the social media giant was stifling free speech. The board was originally meant to determine whether content that Facebook had banned should stay up. Now, it will also be tasked with the reverse, determining whether content that Facebook has allowed to remain on the site should be removed.
Facebook faces political pressure from the left to censor more content for misinformation. That pressure has escalated during the pandemic, as debates over expert opinion and vaccine safety have become more salient and tech companies have increased their efforts to control misinformation.
Facebook users can already report inappropriate content and request that it be removed. This new process allows users to appeal to the Oversight Board if Facebook does not remove the flagged content. The board receives hundreds of thousands of cases and has freedom to choose which cases it hears. Its rulings are binding on Facebook.
A source close to the Oversight Board told the Washington Free Beacon that the board had faced pressure at its inception from civil society groups that wanted Facebook to do more to limit misinformation on the platform. The board has described this move as a natural progression.
The Oversight Board struck down a number of Facebook’s decisions to ban content over the past year. But the expansion of the board’s duties raises concerns that it may become another means by which Facebook removes content that conflicts with its values.
In the coming weeks, the Oversight Board is expected to determine whether former president Donald Trump will be allowed back on Facebook. Trump was banned shortly after the Jan. 6 riot. The ruling will likely be a benchmark for how social media companies balance their competing goals of hosting speech while not being attacked for spreading misinformation.
Testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for more government regulation of social media sites. Many conservatives see the push for regulation as an attempt to silence dissenting voices.