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Daily CSR
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Facebook Oversight Board: An Innovative Approach To Address Human Rights


BSR conducts a review of Facebook’s independent Oversight mechanism, a “novel idea” never created before by any corporate institution.

Dailycsr.com – 27 December 2019 – In a joint blog the managing director, “Dunstan Allison-Hope, the manager Michaela Lee and associate of BSR Joanna reviews the function of oversight board of Facebook from a human rights point of view.
Facebook, the giant social media platform, has to constantly decide on which posts or comments to be kept on the forum and which are to be taken down on a daily basis. It is not always an easy task as there is “strong arguments for either removing or leaving up the content”. Many users land up disagreeing with these decisions.
Mark Zuckerberg, in the November 2018 plan, sought to “create a new way for people to appeal content decisions to an independent body, whose decisions would be transparent and binding”. It is then that the “the Facebook Oversight Board” came into existence while the “Governance Charter” for the same was published in September.
The above mentioned board deals with “difficult content decisions” and comes up with “policy opinions” which often clash with the “freedom of expression” as oppose to “safety, privacy”, dignity and other such values. As per the blog:
“In this sense, the Oversight Board represents a new opportunity to provide enhanced access to remedy for individual users while also informing actions by Facebook to mitigate potential future harms”.
BSR conducted a review of human rights and it revealed the working procedure of the Oversight Board. The review was carried out to bring to light the “governance and operations of the Oversight Board” and its consistency with “human rights-based approaches, principles, standards, and methodologies”.
BSR’s review methodology for the same was based on the “UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”, in short UNGPs, besides combining various other “human rights principles, standards, and methodologies upon which the UNGPs are based”. One of the major challenges that Facebook Oversight Board face is the effort required to meet the wide spectrum of rightsholders coming from various regions of the globe, speaking various languages and strike a balance between them.
Now keeping this issue in mind, Facebook Oversight Board with its authority of making independent decision is “creating an institution unlike anything ever previously created by a company”. The BSR blog describes this attempt as a “leap into the unknown”, an “oversight mechanism” that to BSR’s knowledge no other company has established so far. Therefore it is important to keep up with human rights in a consistent manner.
The Oversight Board has “seven key human rights” topics which were reviewed by BSR. Here are they, as mentioned by BSR:
  • Harms and Impacts: Addressing a wide variety of human rights issues and prioritizing the most severe cases
  • Vulnerable Groups: Addressing the rights and needs of individuals from groups or populations at heightened risk of becoming vulnerable or marginalized
  • Remedy: Providing pathways to effective remedy (i.e., efforts to restore the victim to the same or equivalent position before the harm) and adhering to the access to remedy and operational-level grievance mechanism expectations of the UNGPs
  • Decision-Making: Ensuring that Oversight Board members are fully aware of the international human rights standards and that Oversight Board decisions are effectively integrated into Facebook
  • Informed Consent: Ensuring that relevant users (e.g., those posting or featured in content) provide consent for each case and understand both their risks and their rights when consenting
  • Safety and Integrity: Addressing new human rights risks arising from the existence of the Oversight Board
  • Transparency: Accounting for how human rights impacts are addressed through external communications”
The review report of BSR details recommendations for the board as well as Facebook in every topic. Additionally, it also mentions “three high-level insights”. Below are the said insights as mentioned by BSR:
  1. “We determined that all human rights—not only freedom of expression and personal safety and security—can be impacted by content decisions. This implies that it will be important for the Oversight Board to understand the various human rights impacts at stake in each case.
  2. “The Oversight Board can help prevent and mitigate future human rights harms through both policy recommendations to Facebook and through the action Facebook takes to implement Oversight Board decisions. Policy recommendations could include new or modified language in the Facebook Community Standards, revisions to guidance on how content moderators interpret and enforce the Community Standards, and potential expansions to the scope of the Board’s mandate itself.
  3. “We believe it will be important for the Oversight Board to have a mechanism to identify novel cases, emerging trends, and cases that may become more prevalent or severe alongside upcoming social, political, or economic developments. This will enable the Oversight Board to proactively address areas of risk and anticipate future harms”.
The review was carried out at a time when Facebook built the Oversight Board. This way, the company was able to incorporate many of the recommendations made by BSR into the oversight and functioning of the board. As a result, the Board has become for “more consistent with human rights-based approaches, principles, standards, and methodologies”.
Here are some of the measures already implemented by Facebook, as mentioned by BSR:
  • “The charter requires the board to pay particular attention to the impact of removing content in light of human rights norms protecting free expression. In his letter on the Oversight Board Charter, Mark Zuckerberg sets out how the values accompanying Facebook’s Community Standards—authenticity, safety, privacy, and dignity—are guided by international human rights standards.
  • “When prioritizing cases to refer to the Oversight Board, Facebook will consider factors consistent with the UNGPs, such as the severity of impact on someone’s voice, safety, privacy, or dignity, as well as the number of people affected.
  • “The board will be composed of a diverse set of members, including those who have familiarity with free expression, civic discourse, safety, privacy and technology.
  • “Facebook will provide resources to enable the board to hear cases in multiple languages.
  • “Facebook has designed the tooling and submission process with accessibility to vulnerable groups in mind, including prompts to assist users in submitting their cases and allow individuals to submit their case using a mobile device.
  • “The board will be empowered to instruct Facebook to allow or remove content, which is a form of remedy for users.
  • “Facebook commits to implementing decisions in a timely manner and communicating the implementation of the decision to the user, in line with some of the effectiveness criteria contained in the UNGPs”.