More than two years after it was formed, the Oversight Board says that its recommendations have helped make Meta’s rules more transparent to its users, although the company still needs to improve in some key areas. The board, which is made up of nearly two dozen experts in human rights and free speech, published its annual report covering its work and interactions with Meta over the last year.
While last year’s report sharply criticized Meta for not being transparent enough, the latest report highlights the impact the board’s recommendations are starting to have on the company. “In 2022, it was encouraging to see that, for the first time, Meta made systemic changes to its rules and how they are enforced, including on user notifications and its rules on dangerous organizations,” the board wrote in a statement.
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The report also highlights areas where its members believe Meta can improve. According to the report, Meta reversed its initial moderation decision in almost two-thirds of cases they were picked for the Oversight Board’s shortlist, which “raises wider questions both about the accuracy of Meta’s content moderation and the appeals process.”
The board also points out that it’s been more than two years since it first recommended that the company better align its policies between Instagram and Facebook, but that the company has “repeatedly pushed back the deadline” for doing so. The group also takes issue with Meta’s refusal to translate internal guidelines for its content moderators into their native languages. Meta has contended that all its moderators are fluent in English so the step is unnecessary. But the board says “English-only guidance may cause reviewers to miss context and nuance across languages and dialects,” which can cause errors in enforcement.
The report also describes a lack of transparency over some aspects of Meta’s “newsworthiness” exception, which allows for some rule-breaking posts to remain online if the company determines there is a “public interest value” in the content. The Oversight Board says there is still “little is known about the process it (Meta) uses to decide whether content is newsworthy” and that the company’s responses to questions about the policy side-stepped direct answers.
The board’s report suggests there are other frustrating moments in its interactions with Meta. At one point, the board notes that it took eight months for its members to gain access to the company’s analytics tool CrowdTangle. The board also notes that many of its decisions over the last year were published after the 90-day timeframe set out in its rules. The board cites a few reasons for these delays but says that in some cases delays were due to “negotiations with Meta about how much information, which was originally provided by the company on a confidential basis, we could include in our final decision” that took “longer than anticipated.”
It’s also notable just how few cases the Oversight Board ends up weighing in on. In the report, the board says that in 2022 it published 12 decisions — a tiny fraction of the nearly 1.3 million requests it received from users hoping to overturn one of Meta’s moderation decisions. The board notes that it purposely chooses cases its members believe will have a large impact on Meta’s user base. Even so, numbers underscore the fact that that board will never be able to address the vast majority of requests it receives, despite more than $280 million in funding from Meta. That said, the Oversight Board has said that it intends to move faster on some cases, and that it will issue fast-tracked “summary decisions” in some cases beginning this year.
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Interestingly, the report also touches on Meta’s suggestion that other social media companies should consider using the Oversight Board. “We are interested in working with companies that share our belief that transparent and accountable content governance, overseen by independent bodies, is an essential part of creating an online environment that respects freedom of expression and other human rights,” the report says.
It’s still unclear how Meta’s peers would start working with the group — or if they have any desire to do so — but the board clearly thinks it has lessons other companies could benefit from. “We’re not seeking to be the board for the whole industry,” Oversight Board Director Thomas Hughes says in the report. “But we are seeking to share what we’ve learned, and work with companies interested in setting up different bodies to set standards and oversee content governance.”