Facebook's Oversight Board open but unlikely to play role before U.S. election

(Reuters) - Facebook Inc's FB.O independent Oversight Board, which can overrule company decisions on whether to take down posts and recommend policy changes, started accepting cases for review on Thursday.

The board, which the world’s largest social network created in response to criticism of its handling of problematic content, is open for cases both from users who have exhausted the company’s appeals process and from Facebook itself.

However, Facebook has said the board is unlikely to handle cases related to the upcoming U.S. election, an event around which social media companies’ content decisions are under scrutiny. Brent Harris, Facebook’s director of governance and global affairs, told reporters on a call on Thursday that the company would not submit a case for expedited review before the Nov. 3 vote.

The board, a concept that Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg first publicly floated in 2018, announced its first 20 members in May. They include a former prime minister, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and several law experts and rights advocates.

Global users can submit appeals through the board’s website in the 15 days after Facebook contacts them about its final content decision, though this option will be gradually rolled out over the coming weeks.

A board spokesman told Reuters last month the coronavirus pandemic had contributed to delays since last year in launching the board.

The board, which will only be able to review a small slice of Facebook and Instagram content, said it would share details on its first cases in the coming weeks and open a public comment process. A maximum of 90 days is given for the board to reach case decisions and for Facebook to act on them.

Emi Palmor, an oversight board member and former director general of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, said in an interview that the board may recommend policy changes that would affect Facebook’s features, and how the company distributes content or makes money from it.

“We are not concerned with Facebook as a company that wants to make money,” she said.

Palmor said the board needs to gain public trust in order to put pressure on Facebook to respect its policy recommendations as well as binding content decisions.

Facebook, which can refer cases on content left up or taken down on the site and on issues like ads or Facebook groups, began the process of selecting its cases for referral earlier this week, Harris said.

Palmor said the board, which is expected to grow to about 40 people, would also “immediately” start work to select its next members.

The board, which has been criticized for its limited scope, aims to be able to hear cases from users about content that has been left up, as well as taken down, starting in early 2021, the board’s director of administration Thomas Hughes said.

In September Facebook critics, including the organizers of a social media advertising boycott, launched a rival group to review the company’s content moderation, which they dubbed the “Real Facebook Oversight Board.”

Facebook has committed an initial $130 million to an irrevocable trust to fund the board.

Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; Editing by Chris Reese and Richard Chang