American News Jan 28, 2021 4:45 PM EST

Facebook Oversight Board overturns four of the first five cases heard

The rulings come as a victory for critics of big tech censorship, with the board indicating that securing freedom of speech on the platform will be a top priority.

Facebook Oversight Board overturns four of the first five cases heard
Noah David Alter Toronto
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Facebook's new Oversight Board overturned four of the first five moderator actions it was asked to review in a series of ruling delivered Thursday morning, NBC News reports.

The board was established late last year as Facebook fell under increasing public pressure to create a more effective review mechanism for users who faced moderative actions against their accounts. The site has been widely criticized for employing censorious moderation policies against politically charged posts. The board comprises of 20 members from around the world including journalists, politicians, and judges.

One of the rulings involved a user from Myanmar who described Muslims as psychologically inferior. The board disagreed with Facebook's choice to remove the post, arguing that the user's comments "were not derogatory or violent."

"While the post might be considered pejorative or offensive towards Muslims, it did not advocate hatred or intentionally incite any form of imminent harm," the board stated.

In a separate ruling surrounding the company's hate speech policy, the board chose to uphold Facebook's decision to censor a post which contained racial slurs against Azerbaijani people.

The board overturned two other decisions from the company, including the decision to censor a post quoting Joseph Goebbels. While Facebook considered quoting Goebbels to be an implicit endorsement of his views, the board ruled that the post "did not support the Nazi party’s ideology or the regime’s acts of hate and violence." The board also overturned the censorship of a post which Facebook alleged spread misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, with the board ruling that the user was "opposing a governmental policy and aimed to change that policy."

The board also overturned Facebook's decision to censor a post featuring nudity on Instagram, which was meant to promote breast cancer awareness.

The rulings come as a victory for critics of big tech censorship, with the board indicating that securing freedom of speech on the platform will be a top priority.

"For all board members, you start with the supremacy of free speech," said Alan Rusbridger, who formerly served as editor-in-chief at The Guardian. "Then you look at each case and say, what's the cause in this particular case why free speech should be curtailed?"

Many have noted the outsized influence big tech companies over political discourse in a world that is increasingly holding important political conversations online. Users of these platforms from both the right and the far-left have argued that moderation policies leave them out of the national conversation and give an outsized influence to more centrist-leaning views. They have also argued that such policies allow a small group of extremely wealthy companies to have an outsized influence over elections, with many pointing to Facebook's censorship of the October Hunter Biden scandal as an example.

Supporters of big tech censorship have argued, however, that big tech companies are private companies and should be allowed to moderate their websites as they see fit. So long as they are not state entities, their moderation decisions do not violate a person's right to freedom of speech.

The board further called upon Facebook to clarify their moderation policies following the rulings.

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