Oversight Board Overturns 4 Facebook Decisions, Upholds 1

Oversight Board Overturns 4 Facebook Decisions, Upholds 1
Re thumbs up Like logo is shown on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on April 14, 2020. (Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)
Zachary Stieber

Facebook’s oversight board on Friday said it overturned four of the company’s decisions in removing content.

In one case, Facebook removed a post talking about hydroxychloroquine, a common drug that’s shown some efficacy in treating COVID-19. The board overturned the decision, saying the French user who created the post didn’t encourage people to buy or take drugs without a prescription.

Facebook’s decision in the case “did not comply with international human rights standards on limiting freedom of expression,” the board said, adding that it’s rule against misinformation and imminent harm is “inappropriately vague and inconsistent with international human rights standards.”

The board recommended Facebook clarify existing rules on so-called health misinformation, including defining key terms such as misinformation, and increase transparency around how it moderates posts that are found in conflict with the rules.

In another case, a user posted a quote that incorrectly attributed a quote to Joseph Goebbels, a late Nazi official. Facebook said the post violated rules on dangerous individuals and organizations. The user told the board they intended to draw a comparison between the sentiment in the quote and the presidency of Donald Trump. The board found that the post didn’t appear to violate Facebook’s rules and encouraged Facebook to always notify users of the reasons for any enforcement actions against them.

The board also overturned decisions on removing a picture posted to Instagram to raise awareness of signs of breast cancer that included uncovered female nipples and on removing a post that showed photographs of a Syrian toddler who allegedly violated Facebook’s hate speech rule.

It upheld the removal of a post that contained a demeaning slur against Azerbaijanis.

“None of these cases had easy answers and deliberations revealed the enormous complexity of the issues involved,” the board said in a statement.

The board chose the posts through a process it says was “thorough, principled and globally relevant.” The decisions are binding.

Facebook created the board last year in a bid to stem criticism over its actions against users. Facebook and other large technology companies have ramped up censorship in recent months, removing more posts and banning a wide range users, including former President Donald Trump.

Facebook Vice President Monika Bickert said the company followed the board’s decisions. The breast cancer post, she said, was already restored because the removal was found internally to be in error.

She also addressed recommendations surrounding COVID-19 rules, noting Facebook relies on health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO).

“The board rightfully raises concerns that we can be more transparent about our COVID-19 misinformation policies. We agree that these policies could be clearer and intend to publish updated COVID-19 misinformation policies soon,” she said.

“We do believe, however, that it is critical for everyone to have access to accurate information, and our current approach in removing misinformation is based on extensive consultation with leading scientists, including from the CDC and WHO. During a global pandemic this approach will not change.”