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Facebook is reportedly mulling a commission to advise on elections

An advisory panel would likely include academics and policy experts outside the company.

BRAZIL - 2021/08/24: In this photo illustration the Facebook logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images via Getty Images
Dana Wollman
Dana Wollman|@danawollman|August 25, 2021 7:52 PM

Facebook is considering forming a commission to advise on thorny issues related to global elections, according to a report Wednesday from The New York Times. The company has begun to approach academics and policy experts, who The Times says could potentially weigh in on issues ranging from political ads to election misinformation. What's more, it is not just US elections where a commission could find itself weighing complicated election issues; the commission would also likely have a mandate to weigh in on closely watched elections in Hungary, Germany, Brazil and the Philippines.

Facebook declined to comment.

On its face, the commission sounds a lot like Facebook's Oversight Board, an independent panel of journalists, academics and activists often described as a "Supreme Court" that's tasked with reviewing Facebook's policies. The Oversight Board is perhaps best known for upholding Facebook's decision to ban Donald Trump, though since its formation last year it has also agreed to weigh in on doxing; hate speech; how politicians at large should be treated; content moderation in coup-torn Myanmar; moderation by algorithms; and the appropriate treatment of satire content.

But though the makeup of the election commission sounds like the Oversight Board — and could similarly let Facebook side-step ownership of controversial decisions — there could be an important difference, according to The Times. Whereas the Oversight Board weighs in on decisions that Facebook has already made (much like the Supreme Court considers contested court rulings), the election commission would have the latitude to proactively offer advice, even on matters where Facebook had not yet taken a public stance.

If Facebook goes ahead with outsourcing election-related decisions to an advisory committee, it would be a departure from its previous attempts to counter election misinformation, which have been largely reactive, and almost always imperfect. Even after a temporary ban on political ads ahead of the 2020 US election, some ads were still showing as active in Facebook's ad library. Facebook last year also endeavored to label ads from politically connected publications, and earlier this year moved to show users less political content altogether.

Though Facebook reportedly hopes to launch the commission ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, The Times also describes the outreach as preliminary, with no guarantee that Facebook will move forward on this.