the oversight board of meta recommends to keep moderating covid19 content

The Oversight Board, an entity formed and backed by Meta Platforms to increase the transparency of its content moderation efforts, has issued a report today where it recommends the parent company of Facebook to keep moderating all content related to COVID-19 to avoid the spread of misinformation and fake news.

This response comes up roughly 9 months after Meta asked the Board to review its approach to content moderation related to the pandemic and information concerning the COVID-19 virus considering that the development of vaccines and therapeutic treatments for the disease have reduced the severity of the health emergency.

In the eye of The Oversight Board, a panel of global experts constituted by 20 members, Meta Platforms (META) should continue to moderate and take down any content that is “likely to directly contribute to the risk of imminent physical harm” referring to misinformation related to the virus, as these actions are well-aligned with the company’s core values.

In addition, the panel provided six specific recommendations to the company to keep enforcing its content moderation policies in regards to this topic starting with a review of the 80 talking points related to COVID-19 that the company currently monitors to identify and potentially moderate the content that is published within its platform.

It is the view of the Oversight Board that this would be an important step to make sure that Meta can proceed objectively to deescalate the scope and reach of its policies in regards to this topic and it involves consulting with health experts and relevant institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

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“As Meta has not yet engaged in a due diligence process to change its policy (which is Meta’s responsibility in the first instance), the Board is not in a position to recommend a policy change that could disproportionately affect the most vulnerable”, the experts asserted.

They added: “However, now that we are no longer in the early stages of the crisis, to meet its human rights responsibilities, Meta should regularly assess whether the threshold for removal, set out in its policies, continues to be met”.

It is important to note that the WHO has not yet changed the status of COVID-19 as a pandemic. Therefore, to proceed with caution on this matter, most companies have opted to keep treating the virus as a severe threat to the public’s well-being.

The Board Asks for Clearer and More Transparent Actions

In addition, The Oversight Board is recommending that Meta discloses publicly how it is responding to the requests of different governments to moderate any content that is related to the pandemic as various multilateral organizations have voiced their concerns that some nations have been using the platform to silence certain groups.

The Oversight Board also suggested that Meta increases the clarity of its approach when it comes to moderating this type of content by revealing to users the reasoning behind any actions they take on their content such as removals and limiting their reach. This includes the establishment of a clear and transparent appealing process.

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Between March 2020 and July 2022, Meta Platforms has reportedly removed around 27 million pieces of content that have allegedly made inaccurate claims about the COVID-19 virus while 1.3 million of those have been appealed and restored.

In some cases, the company can take down the publication altogether while it may also “demote” the content that fact-checkers flag as potentially inaccurate. This last action results in lower reach.

Both governments and consumer-protection groups have argued that the actions of social media companies like Meta to moderate this type of content to prevent the spread of fake news and misinformation campaigns have been inadequate and often insufficient.

The members of The Oversight Panel include a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, various well-reputed law professors, a former prime minister, and a handful of journalists. The members of the panel are very diverse in terms of nationality, academic background, and areas of expertise.

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