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Facebook’s independent appeals court is now in session.

The Facebook Oversight Board has chosen the first six cases it will weigh in on: three involving hate speech, and individual cases involving the topics of nudity, dangerous individuals, and the potential for violence caused by misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

The board was created in October to assess the cases of Facebook and Instagram users who argue their content has been wrongly removed from those social media platforms. The six cases were chosen from the more than 20,000 cases it was referred by users and the platforms.

“As the Board cannot hear every appeal, we are prioritizing cases that have the potential to affect lots of users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse or raise important questions about Facebook’s policies,” the board said in a statement accompanying the announcement Tuesday.

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Each case will be assigned to five-member panels (the board has 20 members). Public comment will be taken on the cases until Dec. 8. Within 90 days, the board expects to have decided on the case and Facebook to have implemented its decisions.

The oversight board arose from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s idea to have another check on the social networks’ moderation processes.

A closer look at Facebook appeals

The COVID-19 misinformation case involved the removal of a video and comments criticizing the French health strategy of “purportedly refusing authorization for use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin against COVID-19, but authorizing promotional mail for remdesivir” from a Facebook group related to the pandemic.

“Facebook removed it for violating its policy on Violence and Incitement, and in its referral indicated to the Oversight Board that this case presents an example of the challenges faced when addressing the risk of offline harm that can be caused by misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic,” the case synopsis says.

The hate speech-related cases included one involving a screenshot of tweets from former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad including the comment, “Muslims have a right to be angry and kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.” Facebook removed the post as a hate speech violation. The user appealed to the board, saying they wanted “to raise awareness of the former Prime Minister’s ‘horrible words’,” the board’s synopsis says.

Another of the hate speech-related cases is about the removal of “two well-known photos of a deceased child lying fully clothed on a beach at the water’s edge.” The post’s comments, in Burmese, asked why there has been “no retaliation against China for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, in contrast to the recent killings in France relating to cartoons,” according to the synopsis. The user argued in their appeal that the content should not have been removed because it “meant to disagree with people who think the killer is right and to emphasize that human lives matter more than religious ideologies.”

A third hate speech removal involved the Armenian Azerbaijani conflict and the destruction of churches. The user said “their intention was to demonstrate the destruction of cultural and religious monuments.”

In another case, a user based in Brazil argued that Facebook’s removal of a post about breast cancer prevention with photographs of female breasts was improperly removed for violating adult nudity guidelines.

Also appealed: Facebook’s removal of a re-shared “Memory” post including an alleged quote from Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, “on the need to appeal to emotions and instincts, instead of intellect and on the unimportance of truth.” The user argued that the quote is important “as the user considers the current U.S. presidency to be following a fascist model.”

Oversight of the oversight board?

The Facebook Oversight Board is not without its detractors. Another organization, called the “Real Facebook Oversight Board,” is taking up its own docket. The initiative, created by the nonprofit group Citizens, aims to assess cases that Facebook’s independent board cannot hear or cannot assess quickly.

One of the issues it seeks to highlight is the removal of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon from the platform. Bannon posted a video on Facebook calling for the beheading of Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert. Bannon spreads misinformation online and has deceived users into donating funds to President Trump’s border wall, the group says.

“The Facebook Oversight Board is a toothless body, with too many loopholes to address the massive harms on the site,” said Roger McNamee, who was an early investor in Facebook and is a founding member of the “Real Facebook Oversight Board.” “Our initial docket shows the inadequacy of the oversight board, and spotlights three urgent cases that would never be heard by Facebook.”

Two other cases this board will assess over the next month involve the removal of a Vietnamese activist’s posts.

“Amnesty International is publishing a damning report tomorrow that describes the complicity of tech companies in an increasingly authoritarian regime and notes the fact that Facebook’s own Oversight Board is specifically excluded from hearing cases subject to national laws,” the group says.

The other case, about COVID-19 misinformation, involves a Facebook group with nearly 50,000 members that promotes anti-vaccine beliefs. “None of the posts appear to have been labelled by Facebook; groups are again excluded under the (Facebook Oversight Board’s) terms,” the group says.

When asked about the “Real Facebook Oversight Board,” the Facebook Oversight Board’s co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt said she welcomed additional input on the social networks’ issues.

“We want debate around content moderation and content decisions and we also expect with our transparency that is exactly what will be created,” she said then.

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

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