Oversight Board overturns Facebook decision: Case 2020-005-FB-UA
The Oversight Board has overturned Facebook’s decision to remove a post which the company claims violated its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations. The Board found that these rules were not made sufficiently clear to users.
About the case
In October 2020, a user posted a quote which was incorrectly attributed to Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany. The quote, in English, claimed that, rather than appealing to intellectuals, arguments should appeal to emotions and instincts. It stated that truth does not matter and is subordinate to tactics and psychology. There were no pictures of Joseph Goebbels or Nazi symbols in the post. In their statement to the Board, the user said that their intent was to draw a comparison between the sentiment in the quote and the presidency of Donald Trump.
The user first posted the content two years earlier and was prompted to share it again by Facebook’s “memory” function, which allows users to see what they posted on a specific day in a previous year, with the option of resharing the post.
Facebook removed the post for violating its Community Standard on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations.
In its response to the Board, Facebook confirmed that Joseph Goebbels is on the company’s list of dangerous individuals. Facebook claimed that posts which share a quote attributed to a dangerous individual are treated as expressing support for them, unless the user provides additional context to make their intent explicit. Facebook removed the post because the user did not make clear that they shared the quote to condemn Joseph Goebbels, to counter extremism or hate speech, or for academic or news purposes.
Reviewing the case, the Board found that the quote did not support the Nazi party’s ideology or the regime’s acts of hate and violence. Comments on the post from the user’s friends supported the user’s claim that they sought to compare the presidency of Donald Trump to the Nazi regime.
Under international human rights standards, any rules which restrict freedom of expression must be clear, precise and publicly accessible, so that individuals can conduct themselves accordingly. The Board does not believe that Facebook’s rules on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations met this requirement.
The Board noted a gap between the rules made public through Facebook’s Community Standards and additional, non-public rules used by the company’s content moderators. In its publicly available rules, Facebook is not sufficiently clear that, when posting a quote attributed to a dangerous individual, the user must make clear that they are not praising or supporting them.
Facebook’s policy on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations also does not provide clear examples that explain the meaning of terms such as “praise” and “support,” making it difficult for users to understand this Community Standard. While Facebook confirmed to the Board that Joseph Goebbels is designated as a dangerous individual, the company does not provide a public list of dangerous individuals and organizations, or examples of these. The Board also notes that, in this case, the user does not seem to have been told which Community Standard their content violated.
The Oversight Board’s decision
The Oversight Board overturns Facebook’s decision to remove the content and requires that the post be restored.
In a policy advisory statement, the Board recommends that Facebook:
- Ensure that users are always notified of the reasons for any enforcement of the Community Standards against them, including the specific rule Facebook is enforcing.
- Explain and provide examples of the application of key terms from the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, including the meanings of “praise,” “support” and “representation.” The Community Standard should also better advise users on how to make their intent clear when discussing dangerous individuals or organizations.
- Provide a public list of the organizations and individuals designated as ‘dangerous’ under the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Community Standard or, at the very least, a list of examples.
For further information:
To read the full case decision, click here.
To read a synopsis of public comments for this case, click here.