Facebook oversight board overrules four out of five moderation decisions

Facebook’s supreme court has flexed its muscles for the first time, overturning four of five decisions the social network made on contentious posts.

The firm’s independent oversight board has the power to overrule bosses, including chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, on content removed from the platform.

Facebook has pledged to follow these “binding decisions” as big tech struggles to balance free speech against hate and misinformation.

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

It determined that Facebook was wrong to remove posts including one which featured images of a deceased child alongside commentary on China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.

Removal of a post containing an alleged quote from Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda in Nazi Germany, was deemed incorrect.

The group said Facebook was also wrong to take down a message on a group, in which a person claimed certain drugs could cure Covid-19 and criticised the French government’s response to the pandemic.

“The combination of medicines that the post claims constitute a cure are not available without a prescription in France and the content does not encourage people to buy or take drugs without a prescription,” they ruled.

“Considering these and other contextual factors, the board noted that Facebook had not demonstrated the post would rise to the level of imminent harm, as required by its own rule in the community standards.”

A fourth case, where an Instagram user’s photo included nudity relating to promote breast cancer symptoms, was overruled – though Facebook had already decided to reinstate it.

The only verdict to be upheld concerned historical photos, purportedly showing churches in Baku, with a caption suggesting disdain for Azerbaijani people and support for Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

Facebook was given nine policy recommendations such as being clearer about rule violations – though it can choose not to act on these.

The oversight board has already received its next batch of cases to examine, which includes Facebook’s suspension of former US president Donald Trump, one of the social network’s biggest decisions to date.