Democrats concerned by Facebook oversight board's limited authority

by Reuters
Tuesday, 11 August 2020 20:27 GMT

Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) during a House Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. June 23, 2020. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS

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Facebook's independent board has the authority to overturn decisions on whether individual content should be allowed

(Adds comment from Facebook oversight board)

By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON, Aug 11 (Reuters) - Three Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday urged Facebook Inc to enact the policy recommendations of the company's oversight board, empowering the independent group of advisers, which the lawmakers said have limited responsibilities.

Facebook's oversight board has the authority to overturn decisions by the company and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on whether individual content should be allowed on Facebook and Instagram. The independent board focuses on a small slice of challenging issues, including hate speech, harassment and people's safety.

"We are concerned that Facebook's Oversight Board — and its members — may be ill-equipped and ill-empowered to meaningfully improve the incredibly troubling behavior of the company," said a letter sent to members of the oversight board from House Energy and Commerce committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky.

"(The board) may simply act as a smokescreen behind which Facebook's executives will maintain ultimate control over its content moderation decision-making process," the letter said.

The members said the board's powers, as defined by its charter, limit it to merely enforcing current content policies the company has adopted.

Facebook declined comment. The oversight board's spokesman John Taylor said the board is "empowered to make binding and independent decisions" on content issues and is committed to holding Facebook accountable.

Lawmakers, concerned about election interference, have been interrogating social media giants in the run up to the November presidential elections. Zuckerberg was grilled by both Democrats and Republicans about Facebook's content moderation decisions.

The company unveiled a new policy on Tuesday that would prevent U.S. publishers with political ties from running ads presented as news articles.

In May, the world's largest online social network, with 2.7 billion monthly active users, named its first set of oversight board members. The company also said the board will grow to about 40 members and pledged to fund it with $130 million for at least six years. (Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Aurora Ellis)