Free Speech

First Batch of Facebook Oversight Board Decisions Has Been Released

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There are five, and you can read English-language summaries linked to from this page. Four of the five decisions reverse Facebook's decisions to remove content, and thus take a relatively speech-protective provision, though (unsurprisingly) not always as speech-protective a position as U.S. First Amendment law would apply to governmental restrictions on speech. The one decision that the panel upheld had to do with the use of an ethnic slur against Azerbaijanis in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict:

The post used the term "тазики" ("taziks") to describe Azerbaijanis. While this can be translated literally from Russian as "wash bowl," it can also be understood as wordplay on the Russian word "азики" ("aziks"), a derogatory term for Azerbaijanis which features on Facebook's internal list of slur terms. Independent linguistic analysis commissioned on behalf of the Board confirms Facebook's understanding of "тазики" as a dehumanizing slur attacking national origin.

It's possible that the nipple decision, by the way, would be actually more protective than First Amendment law would be as to governmental restrictions on speech on some kinds of government property. First Amendment law allows reasonable, viewpoint-neutral restrictions in such government-as-proprietor situations (as opposed to general bans on speech even on private property, with the private property owner's permission, imposed by the government as sovereign). A categorical ban on depictions of the female nipple in a limited public forum would likely be upheld under such a standard.

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  1. "A categorical ban on depictions of the female nipple in a limited public forum would likely be upheld under such a standard."

    I thought there no longer can be a distinction between "male" and "female", even in regard to "nipple".

    1. There once wasn't a distinction and a century+ ago, WASPs were scandalized by topless *males* working outdoors. Several Harrrrvvvvard professors moved to the suburbs because of (male) Italian immigrants sitting on their porches "in their undershirts."

      Women fought on both sides of the Civil War, identified as such only when they got killed. Personal privacy was so high that you didn't know that the 16-17 year old boy next to you was really a woman...

      1. Maybe you didn't, Ed.

    2. I think there is a circuit split on this dispute.

  2. What irritated me the most about Farcebook was that they presumed you knew that what you wrote was banned.
    For example, I'd never even heard that "Tranny Bathrooms", short for "Transexual Bathrooms" (3 syllables instead of 6 syllables) was verboten.

    They put me into Farcebook "Jail", I eliminated my account, and boycott merchants who attempt to direct me to their Farcebook presence.

    Now government entities is a different story.

    But my take on this is that Farcebook has become so powerful that its court system will soon supersede the US court system. And you people worried about a coup coming from Donald Trump?

    1. Just for the record; I never worried about a coup coming from Donald Trump.
      Not even once.

  3. I think the Oversight Board is on its best behavior here.

    They took some cases of ridiculous censorship and not only overruled them but suggested Facebook make its policies more speech-friendly.

    No, you can't ban a Trump-is-a-Nazi post by claiming the post is pro-Nazi.

    No, you can't ban a breast-cancer-awareness post by invoking rules about nudity.

    You can't even ban a Myanmar post criticizing Muslims.

    Much reference to international human-rights standards (though Facebook is a private platform, right?).

    They probably chose these cases to put a smiley face on Facebook policies and reassure the public that in future Facebook will be much more reasonable and allow a lot more free speech (though not unlimited speech).

    So...no problem, right?

  4. These were deliberate softballs thrown to the board. The real test comes when they get cases where US right-wingers were subject to censorship, "No, you can't ban someone comparing Trump to a Nazi." Is an easy case of politics and free speech aligning.

    What will happen when they're opposed?

    I guess the board won't see many such cases, because it will only be seeing the cases FB WANTS it to see. Which is why it isn't a genuine check on FB, just a public relations campaign.

    1. I should note that the appeals process appears to allow the board to take cases FB would rather they not, but provides no transparency about how the cases that are actually taken up are chosen. So we have no reason to suppose it is actually independent.

      It's also horribly limited in capacity relative to the scale of FB's moderation activities, guaranteeing that only a minute fraction of adverse actions could ever be reviewed.

      1. More than the appearance of taking cases FB would rather they not cover.

        The breast cancer awareness nipple decision specifically claims that FB asked them not to consider it because FB had already reversed it's decision in that case.

        1. So FB was subjected to the horror of being told they were right to have changed their mind. The ignominy of it!

          That's not a "Facebook would rather the board not override their decision." case.
          Let's see how many cases the board takes where FB's political censorship is on the line.

          1. No the decision goes a bit further than confirming that FB was right to rescind the decision. The board made policy change recommendations targeted at preventing future occurrences of the same problem.

            1. It's still an effort to keep FB from accidentally banning people from calling Republicans Nazis. A ruling that lines up nicely with FB's politics.

              Let's see if they take any cases where FB banned calling Democrats Nazis.

  5. As a side note, the website of this purportedly independent board (even setting aside the fact that its initial membership was hand-picked by FB) has pervasive cross-dependencies to FB resources, and neither the list of decisions nor the decisions themselves can be read while blocking FB's servers and their corresponding myriad of trackers.

    One wonders if they don't understand the exquisitely poor optics of that dynamic, or just don't care. Either way doesn't bode particularly well.

    1. Is that what's going on? I just see a very blank looking page with a little bit of text, some links that don't go anywhere notably different, and nothing else. I use Firefox with some Facebook tracking blockers.

    2. I'm guessing they don't care.

  6. It's possible that the nipple decision, by the way, would be actually more protective than First Amendment law would be as to governmental restrictions on speech on some kinds of government property.

    As I read it, the nipple decision is very narrow as it applies only to posts trying to raise breast cancer awareness.

  7. Some people feel the showing of a female leg is lewd. Others, the showing of female head of hair is.

  8. This reminds me of the days when you could freely buy National Geographic because the bare breasts were in an anthropological context. And after that (1990s?) a TV network promoted a show by promising viewers a bare breast which would be OK to gawk at because it was in the context of breast cancer.

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