Facebook reportedly mulling independent election commission ahead of 2022 midterms

Facebook is considering establishing what officials describe as an independent election commission that will guide the company’s policies towards political advertising and so-called fake news ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

The proposed panel would be tasked with making recommendations about how best to present political ads and how to handle what is deemed to be misinformation related to elections, The New York Times reported.

The move comes after Facebook has come under fire for a number of years for its handling of politically related materials.

Sources told the Times that discussions are just now getting underway and the panel might not actually come to fruition, but if it does, the social media giant would make the announcement officially later in the fall as candidates gear up for the midterms.

The Times reported that the new election panel would resemble Facebook’s Oversight Board, which was formed in 2018 as a body charged with overseeing whether the platform responded correctly in removing certain posts and users. The board is not paid by Facebook but rather through an independent trust.

The board, which is staffed with journalism, policy, and legal experts, has provided Facebook an out for criticism regarding the removal of content and users by allowing company officials to claim they have no say in such decisions.

The thinking inside the company is that forming an independent election commission in the same mold would shield Facebook from allegations of unfair practices that are sure to be levied by both conservative and liberal candidates and their supporters when content is removed or fact-checked, sources told the Times.

The platform began receiving a mountain of criticism following the 2016 election when allegations of Russian intelligence operatives manipulating views and opinions via advertising and posts were widely reported.

But then the platform again faced criticism in 2020 after changing its advertising and posting policies regarding political materials and content.

Initially, Facebook banned the purchase of new political advertising the week prior to the election, while also banning all political ads after polls closed, which caused a huge backlash, according to the Times. In addition, the platform took heat for election-related issues during the 2018 presidential election in Brazil via its WhatsApp messenger platform as well as India’s national elections in 2019.

As such, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who also serves as the company’s CEO, has been called to testify numerous times before Congress regarding the platform’s political advertising decisions and to answer questions about allowing fake news content to proliferate.

Facebook’s Oversight Board made headlines earlier this summer when it decided to uphold the platform’s January decision to boot then-President Donald Trump following the riot at the U.S. Capitol Building, which he was blamed for ‘inciting.’

“The Board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible,” the panel announced in early May, adding that a permanent ban was not appropriate.

As such, the panel requested that the social media behemoth reach a “proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of the platform.”

“Within six months of this decision, Facebook must reexamine the arbitrary penalty it imposed on January 7 and decide the appropriate penalty,” the board added.

In June, Facebook Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg announced that Trump would remain banned for two years.

“Facebook’s ruling is an insult to the record-setting 75M people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election,” Trump said in response. “They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this censoring and silencing, and ultimately, we will win. Our Country can’t take this abuse anymore!”

Jon Dougherty

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