Five Free Expression Safeguards from a Facebook User's Perspective

63 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2019 Last revised: 4 Dec 2019

Date Written: July 28, 2019


Pressure is mounting on Facebook to moderate content more aggressively, risking collateral damage to free expression. Activists have responded by demanding new policies to protect expression rights but, until now, there has been no empirical evidence about public opinion of these safeguards.

Using an original survey of a non-representative sample of US adults who post regularly on Facebook (n=496), I explore concerns about moderation and reactions to five proposed safeguards: increased transparency reporting of moderation decisions, the right to an explanation of those decisions, the right to appeal them, an independent oversight board, and a government audit. (Some are already partially implemented.)

The findings are statistically significant (p < 0.05) and have implications for evidence-based policymaking. The right to appeal a moderation decision would ease concerns about overmoderation about as effectively as the moderation oversight board which Facebook is already building. I recommend that Facebook prioritize implementing the right to appeal, but also note that most respondents want more power ceded to the board. A US government audit of Facebook’s moderation would intensify concerns, so I recommend that potential government intervention be limited to mandated transparency.

Challenging a dominant narrative, I find respondents are more concerned about overmoderation than undermoderation, and add this to the list of reasons that content moderation AI should not be tuned aggressively.

Further, I compare the data against the power expression protection theory (Andsager, et al. 2004. Free expression and five democratic publics.), which claims people of more powerful demographics tend to value freedom of expression more. Finding no support in this context, I conclude it would be a mistake to stereotype those concerned about overmoderation as limited to privileged groups.

Suggested Citation

Rogoff, Zak, Five Free Expression Safeguards from a Facebook User's Perspective (July 28, 2019). TPRC47: The 47th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy 2019, Available at SSRN: or

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