Arbitrating De-platforming Disputes

As most have heard by now, there is great interest and debate regarding the Facebook Oversight Board and its power to decide users’ complaints that they have been improperly de-platformed (or kicked off a platform) for violating platform rules. In fact, some have questioned whether the Facebook process is “arbitration” – or some other “animal.”

Essentially, the Oversight Board currently has 20 members, including former judges and current lawyers, as well as professors and journalists. It also includes a former prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Board members serve a three-year term, and five-member panels decide cases based on facts presented — as well as considerations of free speech. It appears that the board’s decisions are final and Facebook will abide by the decisions. For further information, see https://oversightboard.com/.

It should also be noted that the idea of using arbitration to decide content disputes is not entirely new. For example, Wikipedia uses an “arbitration committee” for resolving disputes regarding its content. The arbitration committee considers requests to open new cases and review previous decisions. The entire process is governed by the arbitration policy. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Arbitration/Policy.

The policy states in part:

“The Arbitration Committee of the English Wikipedia has the following duties and responsibilities:

  1. To act as a final binding decision-maker primarily for serious conduct disputes the community has been unable to resolve;
  2. To hear appeals from blocked, banned, or otherwise restricted users;[note 1]
  3. To handle requests (other than self-requests) for removal of administrative tools;[note 2]
  4. To resolve matters unsuitable for public discussion for privacy, legal, or similar reasons;
  5. To approve and remove access to (i) CheckUser and Oversight tools and (ii) mailing lists maintained by the Arbitration Committee.”

The Policy goes on to provide quite elaborate procedures and policies and is transparent in showing the open disputes, as well as those recently closed. Those interested in examining the process, especially as they follow the news regarding the Facebook Oversight Board, should go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Arbitration/Policy. Interesting stuff!

author

Amy Schmitz

Professor Amy Schmitz joined the University of Missouri School of Law and the Center for Dispute Resolution as the Elwood L. Thomas Missouri Endowed Professor of Law in 2016. Previously she was a Professor at the University of Colorado School of Law for over 16 years. Prior to teaching, Professor…

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