Facebook’s Critics Demand Changes Ahead of the Election

Will the platform's real oversight board please stand up?

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Members of the fake oversight board include journalist Maria Ressa, former Facebook election security chief Yaël Eisenstat and early Facebook investor Roger McNamee. Source: Getty Images, Ted Talks, Toomas Henrik Ilves
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After a summer of extra attention on how social media platforms handle moderating content, Facebook revealed new details about how it will operate its oversight board as criticism continues to pour in.

The board is expected to begin hearing cases of whether the company should reverse decisions to remove organic posts in “mid-to-late October” and will have 90 days—30 if expedited—to review decisions.

Notably, the board will not address policies that have gotten the company in hot water before, including advertising or deciding to remove content that is still live on its channels.

The board has been years in the making after it was first mentioned by CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2018, but was delayed due to the company finalizing a secure software tool for its board members to use to review cases and train them, according to Facebook spokesperson Jeffrey Gelman.

The board is composed of representatives from industries that have before criticized it, including media, in former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, and government, in former prime minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt, among others.

Upon joining, Rusbridger wrote that the board was a “promising move by a company which was exasperating and alienating so many people by its apparent unwillingness, or inability, to get grips with the torrent of lousy, malign content it was enabling and amplifying.”

However, a separate group of Facebook’s most outspoken critics call the oversight board a “blatant attempt to outsource responsibility,” and say it’s all too little too late—especially ahead of the U.S. election this November.

The group of critics, which includes representatives from major civil rights groups like the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, is calling itself the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a self-admitted “troll,” considering it is not, in fact, the real Facebook oversight board.

In a virtual press conference Wednesday, the group—which has no actual authority—spelled out demands for the platform before the election.

The group called on Zuckerberg to do three specific things: Remove posts inciting violence whether from citizens or elected officials; ban all paid advertising that mentions the presidential election results until one candidate wins and the other concedes; and label all organic posts about presidential election results as “untrue and premature” until the election is decided by the aforementioned standards.

Another Facebook spokesperson, Liz Bourgeois, called the effort a “stunt driven by our longtime critics.”

“Worth noting though that we’re already doing work in these areas,” she said. “We’re labeling premature claims of victory and blocking ads with such claims. Just today we said we’ll be rejecting ads delegitimizing the election results.”

If you’ve read criticism of Facebook in recent years, this new group’s membership won’t surprise you. It includes civil rights leaders like NAACP’s Derrick Johnson, Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

Those three organizations also led Stop Hate for Profit, the boycott campaign that convinced 1,100 advertisers to halt spending on Facebook and Instagram this July.

When asked in the press conference, the outside group had mixed opinions of the Facebook-led board’s legitimacy.

“There are really impressive experts and academics on Facebook’s oversight board that it’s created, and we wish them all the luck in the world,” said Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 after she broke the Cambridge Analytica story. “We cheer them onwards and we really hope that they can do something in the longer term to hold Facebook to account, but they are not going to be holding them to account right now at this critical time.”

@ScottNover scott.nover@adweek.com Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.