Facebook has been struggling hard to combat hate speech on their platform
Every time someone reports a post as “hate speech”, someone at Facebook manually reviews the post and based on their opinion, decides whether the said post is fit to be on Facebook or not. This decision of whether something is “hate speech” or not is taken based on Facebook’s “Community Standards.” The “Community Standards” itself are quite loosely framed, involves a lot of subjectivity and gives Facebook the right to take the final call whether something is fit to be on the platform or not.
Here is where the problem surfaces. Since this decision is purely subjective, Facebook has often taken decisions that do not make much sense. For example, when a Facebook user reported a page containing expletives against Hindu God Rama, they found it to be compliant with their “Community Standards”, whereas when users posted an image of well-known activist Imam Tawhidi, Facebook felt that it violated their “Community Standards.”
One solution is to make Facebook accountable under a legal framework. However, Facebook has been lobbying hard to avoid any such regulatory measures. Mark Zuckerberg promised that they would set up an internal mechanism to address this issue.
Facebook has now come up with an “Oversight Board,” who as per their official website, advise Facebook “around freedom of expression online: what to take down, what to leave up, and why.” The Oversight Board consists of 40 members from 29 countries. Let’s take a look at a few of these members.
Helle Thorning-Schmidt – Helle was the Prime Minister of Denmark from 2011 to 2015. She represented a political party named the “Social Democrats”, which is a leftist political party. It is interesting how Facebook feels Helle, who was the face of the leftist movement in Denmark for several years, will guide them to ensure freedom of expression without being biased.
Nighat Dad – Nighat is outspoken when it comes to criticizing India. She labelled India a terrorist state and has been regular in her rants about Modi being anti-Muslim and how India is torturing Kashmiris. Facebook must be applauded for this “unbiased” selection. Nighat also claimed that she would never step foot in the USA if Trump became the President.
Pamela Karlan – Pamela was part of the failed hearings to impeach Donald Trump. Pamela supported the impeachment and went on to drag Trump’s 14-year-old son Barron to drive her agenda. First Lady Melania Trump criticized Pamela’s statements saying, “A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering and using a child to do it.” Again, it is interesting how Facebook thinks a person who does not respect the privacy of minors to drive her leftist point of view would help them become unbiased.
John Samples – John is the Vice President of the Cato Institute, who claims they are a think tank “dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.” Interestingly, Cato has published several articles and research works targeting India. In one article, Cato claims “freedom of religion has been under attack the most” in India, and that “Modi government has significantly diminished the level of personal freedom.” Those who are in touch with the ground reality know better. Another article lifted by Cato from a dubious American website is titled “India’s Dark Path To Hindu Nationalism” and stands as another example of Cato’s one-sided bias.
Maina Kiai – When India took steps to regulate foreign funding received by NGOs, certain sections of the left-wing were pretty upset as their source of funds to fuel tensions in India were cut off. Kiai was extremely vocal about this and raised his voice slamming the government for this move. He was also vocal about his support for Greenpeace, an organization which as per an Intelligence Bureau report played an instrumental part in anti-development activities in India.
Julie Owono – Julie is a lawyer and the Executive Director of a Paris-based digital rights organization. In February this year, Julie shared an article from The Guardian titled “How Hindu supremacists are tearing India apart.” The said article sports an image from an RSS event and claims that the Citizenship Amendment Bill which was passed by both houses of the Indian Parliament is “unconstitutional.” The one-sided article highlights how protestors were not allowed to express their point of view, completely ignoring the other side of the picture. The article which claims Muslims were targeted fails to highlight the fact that a large number of the victims in the unruly protest were the Hindus themselves.
Be it Nicolas Suzor, another member of the Board who claims he “loves” an article comparing Trump to Hitler or Jamal Greene who claims Trump aligns with criminals, a close look at the members of this Oversight Board gives a clear picture as to what Facebook’s intentions really are.
Most members who appear to be left-leaning are extremely successful in their fields. But the fact remains that Facebook is establishing this Oversight Board to give them an opinion on what “freedom of speech” really represents. The Board will inevitably have to depend on the personal opinion of each member to arrive at a conclusion as to what they think is appropriate. Facebook claims they spent over 2 years to plan and establish this Board, scanning over 1000s of applications. If this is the Board of Facebook wants to appoint after all their due diligence, it only looks like a meticulously planned move by Facebook to send out a message that they will remain left-leaning as they have been in the past.
Another interesting fact about the constitution of this Board is that lawyers seem to have the largest representation. This raises an important concern as to whether Facebook’s intention is to really respect freedom of speech or to go about their visible leftist agenda with the backing of a set of experienced lawyers to protect them.
$130 million to run an independent Oversight Board
Facebook recently granted the Oversight Board $130 million to run the Board. It is ironic that Facebook expects the Oversight Board to function in an “independent” manner when it is Facebook itself who is funding this project.
Let us face the truth – humans have opinions. It is not possible for Facebook to ever set up an Oversight Board whose members do not have a political leaning. What Facebook can do however, is to ensure that people who represent opposing ideologies are present on the Board in equal numbers so that “freedom of speech” is looked at in a broad perspective. But clearly, Facebook does not want to do so.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.