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After Oversight Board, Facebook mulls similar body for global election matters: Report

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The new commission which might emulate its Oversight Board comes after years of criticism following Facebook’s election policies dating back to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. 

Facebook Inc has approached academics and policy experts about forming a commission to advise it on global election-related matters, the New York Times reported, citing five people with knowledge of the matter.

The proposed “election commission” would decide on matters such as the viability of political ads and action to be taken on election-related misinformation. The report said that Facebook may announce the commission in a few months as part of its preparation for the 2022 midterm elections.

In the last few years, Facebook has come under criticism by many who have accused the social media platform of allowing political misinformation to fester and spread online. By outsourcing election matters to a panel of experts, Facebook can sidestep criticism of bias by political groups, two people in the know of the matter told New York Times.

Similar to Facebook’s Oversight Board

In 2018, the social media platform created the Oversight Board, a group of journalism, legal, and policy experts who decide whether the company was correct to remove certain posts from the platform, the report said. If the election commission is formed, it would emulate this Oversight Board.

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In January 2021, the Oversight Board reviewed the suspension of former President Donald Trump’s account after the storming of the US Capitol. The Board found that Facebook’s ruling to indefinitely ban Trump was not based on any of the company’s rules.

Facebook’s Oversight Board has also overturned a decision of the company to remove a post that had claimed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were threatening Sikhs with genocide. The Board, which acts as a court of appeals of sorts to Facebook, said that Facebook’s removal of the post was not consistent with its Community Standards or to its human rights responsibilities. It also “urged” the company to take action so as to avoid mistakes that silence the voices of religious minorities.

An election commission would differ from the Oversight Board in one key way, the people said. While the Oversight Board waits for Facebook to remove a post or an account and then reviews that action, the election commission would proactively provide guidance without the company having made an earlier call, they said. – New York Times report.

Criticism regarding Facebook’s election policies

  • Russian interference: The platform was reportedly used as a tool for Russian interference in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. The Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company bought several social media ads supporting the Trump campaign and criticising his opponent, Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton.
  • Cambridge Analytica – In 2018, Zuckerberg was summoned by the US Senate in connection with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The British consulting firm had harvested data of more than 50 million Facebook users without their consent. The firm was employed by the presidential campaigns of former President Donald Trump, senator Ted Cruz, and Secretary of Urban Housing Ben Carson.
  • Brazil: Facebook, along with Twitter, was used to spread misinformation against judges in the country. In July, Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered the take-down of 12 Facebook accounts and 16 Twitter accounts, all of which were operated by allies of the country’s president Jair Bolsonaro. The court order also forced Facebook to block access to said accounts globally.
  • Election ads: In 2020, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social media company would stop allowing new political ads a week before November 3 last year, when the 2020 US presidential elections and many other elections involving federal, state, and local offices would be held. However, political ads published before the final week were allowed to run on the platform. According to the NYT report, this revelation spurred a lot of criticism against the social media platform.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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