Oversight Board upholds Meta's decision in "Armenian prisoners of war video" case
The Oversight Board has upheld Meta’s decision to leave up a Facebook post that included a video depicting identifiable prisoners of war and add a “mark as disturbing” warning screen to the video. The Board found that Meta correctly applied a newsworthiness allowance to the post, which would have otherwise been removed for violating its Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime Community Standard. However, the Board recommends that Meta strengthen internal guidance around reviewing this type of content and develop a protocol for preserving and sharing evidence of human rights violations with the appropriate authorities.
About the case
In October 2022, a Facebook user posted a video on a page that identifies itself as documenting alleged war crimes committed by Azerbaijan against Armenians in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This conflict reignited in September 2020 and escalated into fighting in Armenia in September 2022, leaving thousands dead, and hundreds of people missing.
The video begins with a user-inserted age warning that it is only suitable for people over the age of 18, and an English text, which reads “Stop Azerbaijani terror. The world must stop the aggressors.” The video appears to depict a scene where prisoners of war are being captured.
It shows several people who appear to be Azerbaijani soldiers searching through rubble, with their faces digitally obscured with black squares. They find people in the rubble who are described in the caption as Armenian soldiers, whose faces are left unobscured and identifiable. Some appear to be injured, others appear to be dead. The video ends with an unseen person, potentially the person filming, continuously shouting curse words and using abusive language in Russian and Turkish at an injured soldier sitting on the ground.
In the caption, which is in English and Turkish, the user states that the video depicts Azerbaijani soldiers torturing Armenian prisoners of war. The caption also highlights the July 2022 gas deal between the European Union and Azerbaijan to double gas imports from Azerbaijan by 2027.
The Board finds that although the content in this case violates the Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime Community Standard, Meta correctly applied the newsworthiness allowance to allow the content to remain on Facebook, and the contents of the video required a “mark as disturbing” warning screen under the Violent and Graphic Content Community Standard. These decisions were consistent with Meta’s values and human rights responsibilities.
The case raises important questions about Meta’s approach to content moderation in conflict situations, where revealing identities and locations of prisoners of war could undermine their dignity or expose them to immediate harm. Concerns regarding human dignity are acute in situations where prisoners are shown in degrading or inhumane circumstances. At the same time, such exposure can inform public debate and raise awareness of potential mistreatment, including violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. It can also build momentum for action that protects rights and ensures accountability. Meta is in a unique position to assist in the preservation of evidence that may be of relevance in prosecuting international crimes and supporting human rights litigation.
The scale and speed at which imagery of prisoners of war can be shared via social media complicates the task of resolving these competing interests. Given the acute harms and risks facing prisoners of war, the Board finds that Meta’s default rule prohibiting the posting of information that could reveal the identities or locations of prisoners of war is consistent with the company’s human rights responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights (UNGPs, commentary to Principle 12). These responsibilities are heightened during armed conflict and must be informed by the rules of international humanitarian law. The Board agrees with Meta that the public interest value in keeping the content on the platform with a warning screen outweighed the risk to the safety and dignity of the prisoners of war.
The Oversight Board’s decision
The Oversight Board upholds Meta’s decision to leave the post on Facebook with a “mark as disturbing” warning screen.
The Board also recommends that Meta:
- Develop a protocol to preserve and, where appropriate, share with competent authorities, information to assist in investigations and legal processes to remedy or prosecute atrocity crimes or grave human rights violations.
- Provide further guidance to reviewers and escalation teams to better inform the newsworthiness of escalation and assessment of content revealing the identity or locations of prisoners of war.
- Add an example of content that revealed the identity or location of prisoners of war but was left up due to the public interest, to its public explanation of the newsworthiness allowance in the Transparency Center, in order to provide greater clarity to users.
- Publicly share the protocol on evidence preservation related to atrocity crimes and grave human rights violations.
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.