Facebook plans independent body for content-removal appeals

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

By Munsif Vengattil and Paresh Dave

(Reuters) - Facebook Inc (FB.O) Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday the world's largest social media service would create an independent body to review user appeals of content takedowns, saying his company should not by itself be making "so many important decisions about free expression and safety."

Details of the body are still evolving, but the goal is to increase accountability of removal decisions and ensure they are not being driven by commercial reasons, Zuckerberg told reporters on a conference call.

His announcement came as part of an update on Facebook's Transparency Report, which discloses how the company deals with inappropriate content, requests for user data by governments and claims of users infringing intellectual property rights.

Facebook has been under for fire for the last two years for its self-admitted slow response to a range of issues related to problematic content.

U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russian operatives spread propaganda on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election. Other governments and human rights investigators warned about its sluggish removals of extremist content, which Facebook has improved upon.

Facebook has continued to release more data about its content moderation practices to address criticisms.

"We’re in a much stronger place than we were in 2016," Zuckerberg said. "We’ve also made progress on getting harmful content off our services more broadly."

The company also plans to increase transparency about policy changes in the coming weeks.

Free speech activists on Tuesday called on Facebook to release appeals data too.

For the first time, Facebook on Thursday revealed data on bullying and harassment content, saying it had identified about 2.1 million such posts on its service between April and September, with about 15 percent identified proactively before user complaints.

Even though Facebook identified more than 2 million posts as problematic, it said in its report it could not estimate the true prevalence of bullying content because such activity can be very personalized and therefore hard to detect.

New problems continue to emerge. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar said on Thursday she will ask the Justice Department to look in to a media report saying Facebook hired an outside public relations firm to attack critics including some elected officials. She warned that such action could raise campaign-finance issues. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Klobuchar.


LEGAL REQUESTS

Facebook disclosed a steep rise in legal requests for user data from Indian authorities, up 36 percent in the first half of 2018 compared with a year ago. In the first half of 2017, such requests were up 23 percent from the previous year. Facebook provided data in about 53 percent of Indian cases.

Censorship requests in Russia and Pakistan rose sharply. Facebook said it restricted access in Russia to "extremism, self-harm, and suicide promotion" content that allegedly violate local laws. In Pakistan, items allegedly violated bans on "blasphemy, harassment, anti-judiciary content and condemnation of the country's independence."


(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru and Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Matthew Lewis)