Oversight Board overturns Meta’s original decision: Case 2021-015-FB-UA
The Oversight Board has overturned Meta’s original decision to remove a Facebook post which asked for advice on how to talk to a doctor about the prescription medication Adderall®. The Board did not find any direct or immediate connection between the content and the possibility of harm.
About the case
In June 2021, a Facebook user in the United States posted in a private group that claims to be for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The user identifies themselves as someone with ADHD and asks the group how to approach talking to a doctor about specific medication. The user states that they were given a Xanax prescription but that the medication Adderall has worked for them in the past, while other medications “zombie me out.” They are concerned about presenting as someone with drug-seeking behavior if they directly ask their doctor for a prescription. The post had comments from group members providing advice on how to explain the situation to a doctor.
In August 2021, Meta removed the content under Facebook’s Restricted Goods and Services Community Standard. Following the removal, Meta restricted the user’s account for 30 days. As a result of the Board selecting this case, Meta identified its removal as an “enforcement error” and restored the content.
The Board finds that Meta’s original decision to remove the post did not comply with the Facebook Community Standards. The Restricted Goods and Services Community Standard does not prohibit content which seeks advice on pharmaceutical drugs in the context of medical conditions.
The Board finds that the definitions of substances under the Facebook Community Standard on Restricted Goods and Services are not sufficiently transparent to users. The rules in this case are particularly opaque because, according to the internal definitions shared with the Board, Adderall and Xanax could fall under either non-medical drugs or pharmaceutical drugs depending on the circumstances. Meta does not currently define non-medical drugs or pharmaceutical drugs in a public-facing document.
The Board considers Meta’s decision to remove the post to be unnecessary and disproportionate. There was no direct or immediate connection between the content and the possibility of harm. The user clearly expressed that their intent was to seek health information and included the content warning “CW: Medication, addiction,” on the risks associated with the drugs their post discussed.
Meta’s removal of the post also generated a strike against the user which, in combination with previous strikes they had received, resulted in their account being restricted for 30 days. This violation on the user’s freedom of expression was not reversed before the end of this period, and Meta failed in its responsibility to provide the user with an effective remedy. In the future, the company should review user appeals in a timely fashion when content-level enforcement measures trigger account-level penalties.
The Oversight Board’s decision
The Oversight Board overturns Meta’s original decision to remove the content.
As a policy advisory statement, the Board recommends that Meta:
- Publish its internal definitions for “non-medical drugs” and “pharmaceutical drugs” in the Facebook Community Standard on Restricted Goods and Services. The published definitions should: (a) make clear that certain substances may fall under either “non-medical drugs” or “pharmaceutical drugs” and (b) explain the circumstances under which a substance would fall into each of these categories.
- Study the consequences and trade-offs of implementing a dynamic prioritization system that orders appeals for human review, and consider whether the fact that an enforcement decision resulted in an account restriction should be a criterion within this system. Meta should share the results of these investigations with the Board and in its quarterly Board transparency report to demonstrate that it has complied with this recommendation.
- Conduct regular assessments on reviewer accuracy rates focused on the Restricted Goods and Services policy. Meta should share the results of these assessments with the Board, including how these results will inform improvements to enforcement operations and policy development, and summarize the results in its quarterly Board transparency reports. Meta may consider if these assessments should be extended to reviewer accuracy rates under other Community Standards.
Note: To facilitate a more comprehensive response to Board recommendations, Meta will now have 60 days instead of 30 days to respond. The Board’s Bylaws have been updated to reflect this change, and a revised version can be found here.
For further information:
To read the full decision, click here.
To read a synopsis of public comments for this case, please click the attachment below.