A group of academics, civil rights experts, and activist have spent a month pressuring Facebook to do more to fight misinformation, voter suppression, and hate speech ahead of the U.S. election. And with the end of voting now less than a week away, the group, called the Real Facebook Oversight Board, is more vocal than ever.
“One of our main strategic goals is to be a complete pain in the ass to Facebook,” Carole Cadwalladr, the board’s spokeswoman, told me.
The group quickly cobbled itself together last month as an “emergency response to an emergency situation,” Cadwalladr said, referring to how, in the board’s view, Facebook had failed to police its service ahead of the election. Since then, the board has demanded that Facebook try harder by deleting posts that prematurely claim one of the candidates has won and better enforcing its prohibition against hate groups and inciting violence.
The unofficial board has hosted virtual events, including live commentary during Wednesday’s Senate hearing at which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to a committee rife with skeptical legislators. This week, the board also hosted a virtual talk with a current Facebook content moderator and two former ones who spoke about the difficulty of ensuring that more than 2 billion Facebook users behave.
Allison Trebacz, who worked as a Facebook moderator in 2017 and 2018, worried during the event about the company’s election game plan. Trebacz hasn’t worked as moderator during a U.S. presidential election and isn’t privy to current internal conversations at Facebook. But she has first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be on the frontlines. She said policy gaps and unanswered questions often make content moderators’ jobs “outrageously difficult.” “I think it’s going to be chaos,” she said.
Facebook, however, is trying to reassure the public that it’s doing everything it can to protect the election’s integrity. The company regularly releases reports about bad actors it has booted off its service for coordinating to mislead people about their intentions. The company has also tightened some of its rules on political ads and announced plans to crack down on candidates who claim premature victory.
Facebook hasn’t taken kindly to the unofficial board’s public attacks. Instead, its leaders brag about the company’s official and totally separate Facebook Oversight Board, a sort of court of appeals for Facebook users who think their posts have been unfairly deleted for running afoul of the service’s rules. “Those on the fake board already have large mouthpieces to criticize Facebook – the real board will do the actual work,” Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, tweeted last month.
The official board, created at a glacial pace over the past two years, announced last week that it would begin hearing appeals immediately. In theory, the board could soon give Facebook recommendations about how to better control harmful content. However, Facebook ultimately gets to decide whether to implement any recommendations.
Critics, including Cadwalladr, a Brit whose full-time job is investigative reporter, argue that Facebook’s crackdowns are usually too little, too late. Often, she said, they come only “after the damage has already been done.”
This week on Fortune’s Brainstorm podcast explores the impact of big tech platforms on democracy and the economy. According to our guests, Google and other big tech platforms are hurting democracy and stifling the economy. Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe speak with Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO of search engine DuckDuckGo; Maurice Stucke, law professor at the University of Tennessee and co-author of ‘Competition Overdose;’ and Fortune Senior Writer, Aaron Pressman.
Listen to the episode here.