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Meta's “supreme court” warns Facebook, Instagram, and competitors ahead of global elections

Problematic content spreading online

The Oversight Board, a global body of experts that reviews Meta’s most difficult and significant decisions related to content on Facebook, Instagram, and Threads, calls for all social media companies to step up their game when it comes to protecting the electoral integrity around the globe.

The year 2024 is a so-called super-election year with important elections taking place in more than 80 countries worldwide. It is not just about the U.S. presidential race – for instance, 27 countries in the European Union will be voting for new members of the European Parliament in June.

With this in mind, the Oversight Board published a paper addressed not just to Meta’s own services, but also to all the competing social media platforms. The paper is based on the Board's experience and expertise, and it contains nine key lessons for the whole industry.

The lessons range from sufficient moderation resources, dangers of allowing governments to use disinformation, justifying freedom of expression’s suppression, to AI deepfakes and higher transparency:

  • Policies are one part of the story, but enforcement is equally as essential. This demands that social media companies dedicate sufficient resources to moderating content before, during, and after elections.
  • Companies must set basic global platform standards for elections everywhere. They must ensure they do not neglect the dozens of elections taking place in countries or markets considered less lucrative because this is where the human rights impact of not implementing such standards can be most severe. Platforms that fail to deliver should be held accountable.
  • Political speech that incites violence cannot go unchecked. Quicker escalation of content to human review and tough sanctions on repeat abusers should be prioritized.
  • Platforms must guard against the dangers of allowing governments to use disinformation, or vague or unspecified reasons, to suppress critical speech, particularly in election settings and around matters of public interest.
  • Policies that suppress freedom of expression must specify the real-world harms they are trying to prevent, to ensure they are necessary and proportionate to the harm.
  • Lies have always been part of election campaigns, but technological advances are making the spread of falsehoods easier, cheaper, and more difficult to detect. Clear standards need to be set for AI-generated content or “deepfakes” and other types of manipulated content, such as “cheap fakes.”
  • Journalists, civil society groups, and political opposition must be better protected from online abuse as well as over-enforcement by social media companies, including at the behest of governments and other parties.
  • Transparency is more important than ever when it comes to preserving election integrity. Companies must be open about the steps they take to prevent harm and the errors they make.
  • Coordinated campaigns aimed at spreading disinformation or inciting violence to undermine democratic processes must be addressed as a priority.

The Oversight Board, which has been nicknamed “Meta’s supreme court” calls for urgent action, claiming the worst online abuses of popular digital platforms are a threat to key global elections and free speech.

“These are guidelines primarily for industry, but we hope they will help influence other stakeholders as they work to hold companies to account,” reads the paper, which is available in full on the Oversight Board’s website.

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