- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2020

The new oversight board charged with policing Facebook’s content enforcement decisions will now get to work before Election Day, reversing previous plans to stay out of 2020 politics entirely.

The board said Thursday it will begin hearing cases in October. In May, board-co-chair Michael McConnell told The Washington Times that he would not guarantee the board functioning in 2020 and described it as a “long-term project.”

“We are currently testing the newly deployed technical systems that will allow users to appeal and the Board to review cases,” an oversight board spokesperson told The Washington Times on Thursday. “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.”

Facebook revealed the first 20 members of its board in May, developing something representing a judicial system for its estimated 2.7 billion monthly active users that number larger than the world’s most populous nations. Mr. McConnell, a former federal judge appointed by former President George W. Bush, told The Times shortly after the board’s first members became public that he thought it was “unfortunate” the board was forming in an election year.

The oversight board insists that it has not changed its timing but has pursued an aggressive timetable to launch as quickly as possible.

The frenzied push for the board to get started comes as Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, have faced boycotts and congressional scrutiny over the company’s handling of censorship and content enforcement decisions on its platform. Conservatives have accused Mr. Zuckerberg’s platform of harboring anti-conservative and anti-Trump bias, while liberals have argued that Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook need to crack down harder on conservatives an President Trump’s supporters.

By getting the 20-member board up-and-running before the election, Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook’s leadership would be able to point to the board as evidence that they attempted to remove political bias from their decisions to obstruct content surrounding the 2020 U.S. election.

The board is organized as a limited liability company that is technically separate from Facebook but operates with a $130 million trust fund provided by Facebook. Previously, the board said it would double in size. Approximately one-quarter of the board’s current 20 members hail from North America, which has drawn criticism from Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign.

The Trump reelection campaign has questioned what role the “majority foreign board” would have regarding U.S. election content, and Trump campaign digital director Gary Coby branded the board a “big scam” by Facebook.

While the appeals process for the oversight board remains untested, the board previously explained that it would take approximately 90 days to resolve any case it chooses to examine. Any appeal of a Facebook or Instagram content policy decision must be sent to the board within 15 days of those platform’s decisions.

The types of appeals headed the board’s way may increase as the election nears, as the company has made several changes to how it will moderate content in the run-up to the November election. Facebook’s updated terms of service will take effect on October 1 and give the company more open-ended reasoning for removing content on its platforms.

Then, in the final three days before the November election, Facebook has said it will task its “Election Operations Center” with quickly removing content on its platforms. Facebook has also made plans to halt all new political and issue advertising on its platform in the last week before the election.

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