Hate speech row: Facebook oversight board will investigate political ‘bias’ cases

NEW DELHI: The controversy over Facebook allegedly not subjecting some posts by a BJP leader to hate speech rules is exactly the kind of “highly challenging” cases the social media giant’s Oversight Board expects to consider, a board spokesperson told ET.

The Oversight Board, formed after multiple controversies including the one involving Cambridge Analytica, will begin operations in the next few months.

“How Facebook treats posts from public figures that may violate community standards are within the scope of the board. Hate speech is included in this and we won’t shy away from the tough cases and holding Facebook accountable,” said the board spokesperson.

“The Oversight Board is empowered to make binding and independent decisions on many of the most challenging content issues on Facebook and Instagram, and we are committed to protecting users and holding Facebook accountable,” the spokesperson added.


Facebook had named 20 members to its board in May, two years after first proposing an independent body. Sudhir Krishnaswamy, vice chancellor of National Law School of India University, is on the board’s review panel. Members of the board include former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt; Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman from Yemen; Alan Rusbridger, former editor-inchief of The Guardian; and Emi Palmor, former director-general of the Israeli ministry of justice. The Wall Street Journal had reported Facebook’s alleged failure to apply hate speech rules to posts by a BJP leader from Telangana and three other party leaders. The BJP and Congress have since had a rhetorical battle over social media conduct and ethics. ET has reported (, based on public documents, on details of the company’s efforts to influence policy on earlier occasions.

The spokesperson for Facebook’s Oversight Board said “preparations for building a board like this are significant, including staffing the board’s administration, developing our processes and procedures for deliberation and decisionmaking, and ensuring we have the infrastructure in place for the members to do their job in a secure and privacy-protective way”.

“Since May, we have been focused on building a deliberative culture, training members on the relevant Facebook policies and procedures needed to do their work, and defining how they plan to select and deliberate cases, all virtually, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic,” the spokesperson added.

In a response to ET’s queries, a Facebook spokesperson said members of the board are currently undergoing training on the social media platform’s community standards, policy development processes and enforcement frameworks, as well as the types of content decisions that are in the board’s ambit.

“In conjunction with the Oversight Board we hope to announce new members later this year,” a spokesperson from the company said.

But some lawmakers in the US have questioned the Oversight Board’s possibly limited responsibilities. As per a Reuters report this month, three Democrat members of the House of Representatives expressed concern that Oversight Board and its members may be ill-equipped and ill-empowered to meaningfully improve the ‘incredibly troubling’ behaviour of the company.

“Just like the US lawmakers you reference, our board members are eager to begin their work later this year and are on schedule to do so,” the spokesperson told ET.

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