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Power

Facebook’s Supreme Court is open for business

The oversight board has a plan and a process for reviewing the platform's thorniest cases. How much power it has is still hard to know.

Facebook’s Supreme Court is open for business

The biggest question facing the oversight board is exactly how much power it'll have.

Image: Alex Haney / Unsplash

After months of preparation and internal discussion, Facebook's oversight board is getting ready to hear cases.

There are three ways the board will receive cases for review. Users who have had their content taken down, and had their appeal to Facebook rejected, can now appeal their case directly to the oversight board. (They can't submit others' content, though. The board cited privacy reasons, but said this is something they're working on solving.) Facebook can also refer cases itself. In those instances, the board itself decides whether to review the cases, much like the Supreme Court chooses which ones it accepts, and tacitly reinforces existing decisions by rejecting cases. And in particularly urgent scenarios, Facebook can send cases to the board for "expedited review."

"The board has sole discretion to accept or reject cases that are referred from Facebook through this process," board co-chair Jamal Greene said on a call with reporters, "apart from expedited cases, which the board will always consider."

As for what rises to the bar of expedited review, Greene said things have to meet two criteria: significance and difficulty. Significance means content has to have real-world impact, with potentially serious consequences. Difficulty means there must be strong arguments both for leaving it up and for taking it down.

In every case, a five-person panel will be convened to rule on the case, and at least one of those five will be from the geographical region most relevant to the content in question. For normal cases, co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt said, the whole process will take "a maximum of 90 days." She was careful to say, too, that the board's relatively slow deliberations don't give Facebook cover to act slowly. Even in expedited cases, she said, the board may take a few days to consider the context, translate when necessary, and make a decision. Facebook, she said, needs to move more quickly.

As cases are assigned, Thorning-Schmidt said, the board will post information on its website. "Website decisions will follow the same format," she said, "presenting the key information used by the panel to make a decision with an explanation of how the panel reached its final conclusions." There will be a period for public comment for every case, too, in which the board solicits third-party thoughts from experts and anyone interested.

The biggest question facing the oversight board is exactly how much power it'll have. And so far, no one seems to know, exactly. In individual cases, its rulings will be binding: If the board says the post should come down, it comes down. Greene also said he hopes the Board's rulings will set precedents: "We want our decisions to be influential and have impact beyond the single case. We will therefore prioritize cases that have the potential to impact many users, or are of critical importance to public discourse, or raise important questions about Facebook's policies."

But "hopes" might be the operative word here. Facebook's Brent Harris echoed that sentiment about precedent, saying that "for similarly situated content" to things the board has adjudicated, "Facebook will also seek to apply that same resolution and same decision." But he cautioned that deciding what qualifies as "similarly situated content" is hard to know. In general, outside of individual, up-or-down cases, the board seems to be only as powerful as Facebook wants it to be.

Thorning-Schmidt also said the board will provide Facebook with broader policy recommendations, but noted that Facebook isn't required to implement them. Facebook "has committed to consider these recommendations as part of their ongoing policy development process," she said, "and must publicly respond to them."

Another challenge for the board will be wading through the inevitable torrent of referrals and appeals from users, as Facebook and Instagram both roll out tools for users to submit things to the board. Facebook's Brent Harris said the company has built a new case-management tool "so the board members have a secure and privacy-protective way of selecting, reviewing, hearing and making decisions from anywhere in the world."

The board has officially started selecting cases, and Facebook has begun selecting its own cases to refer to the board. The timing of the launch means the board's virtually guaranteed to not weigh in on the U.S. election, which Greene said wasn't intentional but also wasn't the board's biggest concern. "Of course, the U.S. election is very important," he said. "But it's also important to recognize that there are many, many, many other significant challenges impacting Facebook and Instagram users around the world."

The board's members made clear that they are not a substitute for Facebook's moderation team, nor are they a real-time adjudicator of thorny issues. Their job, except in rare cases, is to think longer-term and higher-level about what's happening on those platforms and how it can be made better. And to make Facebook listen.

App store laws, Microsoft AR and Square buys Tidal

Welcome to this weekend's Source Code podcast.

Cole Burston/Bloomberg

This week on the Source Code podcast: First, an update on Google's user-tracking change. Then, Ben Pimentel joins the show to discuss Square buying Tidal, and what it means for the fintech and music worlds. Later, Emily Birnbaum explains the bill moving through the Arizona legislature that has Google and Apple worried about the future of app stores. And finally, Janko Roettgers discusses Microsoft Mesh, the state of AR and VR headsets, and when we're all going to be doing meetings as holograms.

For more on the topics in this episode:

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Protocol | Policy

Far-right misinformation: Facebook's most engaging news

A new study shows that before and after the election, far-right misinformation pages drew more engagement than all other partisan news.

A new study finds that far right misinformation pulls in more engagement on Facebook than other types of partisan news.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

In the months before and after the 2020 election, far-right pages that are known to spread misinformation consistently garnered more engagement on Facebook than any other partisan news, according to a New York University study published Wednesday.

The study looked at Facebook engagement for news sources across the political spectrum between Aug. 10, 2020 and Jan. 11, 2021, and found that on average, far-right pages that regularly trade in misinformation raked in 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages that aren't known for spreading misinformation.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

WhatsApp thinks business chat is the future — but it won't be easy

From privacy policy screw-ups to UI questions, can WhatsApp crack the super-app riddle?

WhatsApp Business is trying to wrap shopping around messaging. It's not always easy.

Image: WhatsApp

At some point, WhatsApp was always going to have to make some money. Facebook paid $21.8 billion for the company in 2014, and since then, WhatsApp has grown to more than 2 billion users in more than 180 countries. And while, yes, Facebook's acquisition was in part simply a way to neutralize a competitor, it also knows how to monetize an audience.

The trick, though, would be figuring out how to do that without putting ads into the app. Nobody at WhatsApp ever wanted to do that, including co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, who reportedly left Facebook after disagreements over ads. More recently, even Mark Zuckerberg has slowed the WhatsApp ad train, with The Information reporting that ads in WhatsApp likely won't come while the company's under so much regulatory scrutiny. So: $21.8 billion, no ads. What to do?

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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