Facebook critics’ alternative Oversight Board to discuss moderation

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The day after Facebook announced it will launch its Oversight Board in October to determine what’s allowed on the site, critics launched their own alternative.

The Citizens, a UK nonprofit, unveiled the ‘Real Facebook Oversight Board’ on Friday to address the social media giant’s policies and practices ahead of the US presidential election.

The group warned that Facebook was already being used to suppress minority votes.

‘Its tools are being used to spread lies and to enable private militias to organize voting station protests,’ the group said in a statement on its website.

Decisions by Citizens’ panel of experts are not binding on Facebook, but the group hopes putting the platform under public scrutiny will have an impact. 

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The day after the announcement of the official Facebook Oversight Board, a UK nonprofit  unveiled 'the Real Facebook Oversight Board,'  which aims to hold the social media platform accountable for its policies and practices

The day after the announcement of the official Facebook Oversight Board, a UK nonprofit  unveiled ‘the Real Facebook Oversight Board,’  which aims to hold the social media platform accountable for its policies and practices

‘In 2016, we didn’t understand how Facebook was being used to subvert the presidential election. This time, there’s no excuse,’ the organization says. ‘A single, unelected man rules Facebook’s vast empire and is accountable to no one.’ 

The Citizens complain that, even if the official Facebook Oversight Board starts hearing appeals in mid-October as planned, it can take up to 90 days to reach a decision – far too late to have an impact on the US presidential race. 

‘We’re not waiting for another election to go wrong. We believe accountability in real-time is vital.’

‘Facebook is a weapon,’ Citizens founder Carole Cadwallad tweeted on Friday. ‘A private company, controlled by one man, being used to undermine democracy. We urgently need to hold it to account. Before it’s too late.’ 

UK journalist Carole Cadwalladr says she launched the Real Facebook Oversight Board to hold the platform to account as the presidential election nears. 'We know there are going to be a series of incidents leading up to the election and beyond in which Facebook is crucial,' she told NBC News

UK journalist Carole Cadwalladr says she launched the Real Facebook Oversight Board to hold the platform to account as the presidential election nears. ‘We know there are going to be a series of incidents leading up to the election and beyond in which Facebook is crucial,’ she told NBC News

Cadwalladr, a prominent UK journalist, previously broke the story on how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook user data to target voters in the 2016 presidential election and Brexit vote.

‘We know there are going to be a series of incidents leading up to the election and beyond in which Facebook is crucial,’ she told NBC News.

She called the Real Facebook Oversight Board a ‘real-time response from an authoritative group of experts to counter the spin Facebook is putting out.’

The board is composed of some two dozen academics, politicians, civil rights advocates, and journalists, including NAACP president Derrick Johnson, MP Damian Collins former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Algorithms of Oppression author Safiya Noble and Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen.

Also on the board are Yael Eisenstat, an ex- CIA officer and Facebook’s former head of election integrity operations for political ads, and Marietje Schaake, director for international policy at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center.

The group will hold weekly Facebook Live meetings covering everything from political ads to Facebook events encouraging militia groups to intimidate voters.

The first meeting, on October 1, will be hosted by Recode founder Kara Swisher and will focus on voter suppression and misinformation campaigns

On its website, The Citizens describes itself as a volunteer group operated by journalists, filmmakers, advertising creatives, data scientists, artists, students, lawyers and others.

Prominent members include Peabody Award-winning investigative journalist Iain McHardy Overton, Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff, and former intelligence officer Christopher Steele, author of a controversial dossier on President Donald Trump.

Funding comes from Patreon donations, a GoFundMe campaign, an award from the Stieg Larsson foundation and the Luminate Foundation, an offshoot of the Omidyar Network, a self-styled ‘philanthropic investment firm.’ 

‘It’s good to have an alternative point of view, and we hope that the Real Facebook Oversight Board will strengthen the hand of Facebook’s actual oversight board and push them to do more,’ Martin Tisné, managing director of Luminate, told NBC News.

The news of Facebook’s ‘Supreme Court’ comes amid rising concerns about misinformation and manipulation around the US election.

The news of Facebook's 'Supreme Court' comes amid rising concerns about misinformation and manipulation around the US election

The news of Facebook’s ‘Supreme Court’ comes amid rising concerns about misinformation and manipulation around the US election

It will be able to make binding rulings on whether posts or ads violate Facebook standards, weighing factors such as severity, scale and public discourse.

Once a decision has been made, Facebook will ‘promptly implement’ it, the company said.

‘We are currently testing the newly deployed technical systems that will allow users to appeal and the board to review cases,’ a board spokesperson said in a statement to AFP.

‘Assuming those tests go to plan, we expect to open user appeals in mid to late October. Building a process that is thorough, principled and globally effective takes time and our members have been working aggressively to launch as soon as possible.’

Members of the official Facebook Oversight Board include former U.S. federal circuit judge Michael McConnell, former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman, Columbia Law professor Jamal Greene and former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger.

Twenty members were appointed in May, though the panel is expected to grow to 40. 

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