Facebook has recently launched its content oversight board, which it intends to use to make more decisive judgements on what controversial content should be allowed on the site.
The independent (although funded to the tune of $130 million) board has been set up to decide exactly how content should be moderated in the future, to avoid cases such as election hacking by foreign states, and widespread propaganda exercises.
However, some have raised major concerns that it is an authoritarian move, which will eventually limit free speech to huge extents.
Nobody can deny that Facebook hasn’t had huge implications for the way that political campaigns operate. They allow political parties to buy advertisements on their platform, which means that people are consistently seeing political messaging.
Companies such as Cambridge Analytica are using this Big Data approach to map out the population, find out exactly where votes are and target them. This has arguably meant that companies can buy elections, or at least buy a lot of information on who will vote for them.
This is the sort of behaviour that an independent board could look at, as it’s hard to argue that a country has “free and fair elections” when people can pay to win them.
Implications for conspiracy theorists
However, there is significant freedom of speech implications that come with this board. In the case that someone has an opinion that goes against the grain, for example, they believe in the “Flat Earth” theory or another conspiracy theory, there is a risk that this independent board could shut down these conversations.
Whilst theories such as this are wild and based on no logic, it’s often said that shining light on a theory is the best way to demonstrate that it is false. By shutting down conspiracy theorists, the board runs the risk of these individuals becoming even further radicalised and feeling more suppressed.
Limiting the average person
Finally, there is a risk that the board is out of touch with Facebook’s average user. There are former Prime Ministers, human rights lawyers and CEOs on the board, which is a vastly different composition from a user’s friends list.
This means that jokes poking fun at those higher up in society, which could be considered fine to most of the population, are censored. Again, this risks impacting free speech and gives wealthier people in society another perch from which to limit the freedoms of the average citizen.
Overall, if handled well, the independent board could stop the more egregious uses of social media by political organisations, but it will need to be examined carefully to make sure it doesn’t negatively affect people’s day to day lives.