Oversight Board overturns Meta’s original decision in ‘Mention of the Taliban in news reporting’ (2022-005-FB-UA)
The Oversight Board has overturned Meta’s original decision to remove a Facebook post from a news outlet page reporting a positive announcement from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan on women and girls’ education. Removing the post was inconsistent with Facebook’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Community Standard, which permits reporting on terrorist groups, and Meta’s human rights responsibilities. The Board found Meta should better protect users’ freedom of expression when it comes to reporting on terrorist regimes and makes policy recommendations to help achieve this.
About the case
In January 2022, a popular Urdu-language newspaper based in India posted on its Facebook page. The post reported that Zabiullah Mujahid, a member of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and its official central spokesperson, had announced that schools and colleges for women and girls would reopen in March 2022. The post linked to an article on the newspaper’s website and was viewed around 300 times.
Meta found that the post violated the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy which prohibits “praise” of entities deemed to “engage in serious offline harms," including terrorist organizations. Meta removed the post, imposed “strikes” against the page administrator who had posted the content and limited their access to certain Facebook features (such as going live on Facebook).
The user appealed and after a second human reviewer assessed the post as violating, it was placed in a queue for the High-Impact False Positive Override (HIPO) system. HIPO is a system Meta uses to identify cases where it has acted incorrectly, for example, by wrongly removing content. However, as there were less than 50 Urdu-speaking reviewers allocated to HIPO at the time, and the post was not deemed high priority, it was never reviewed in the HIPO system.
After the Board selected the case, Meta decided the post should not have been removed as its rules allow “reporting on” terrorist organizations. It restored the content, reversed the strike, and removed the restrictions on the user’s account.
The Oversight Board finds that removing this post is not in line with Facebook’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Community Standard, Meta’s values, or the company’s human rights responsibilities.
The Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Community Standard prohibits “praise” of certain entities, including terrorist organizations. “Praise” is defined broadly in both the Community Standard, and the internal guidance for moderators. As a result, the Board understands why two reviewers interpreted the content as praise. However, the Community Standard permits content that "reports on” dangerous organizations. The Board finds this allowance applies in this case.
The Board also finds that removing the post is inconsistent with Meta’s human rights responsibilities; it unjustifiably restricts freedom of expression, which encompasses the right to impart and receive information, including on terrorist groups. This is particularly important in times of conflict and crisis, including where terrorist groups exercise control of a country.
The Board is concerned that Meta’s systems and policies interfere with freedom of expression when it comes to reporting on terrorist regimes. The company’s Community Standards and internal guidance for moderators are not clear on how the praise prohibition and reporting allowance apply, or the relationship between them. The fact that two reviewers found the post was violating suggests that these points are not well understood. The Board is concerned that Meta’s default is to remove content under the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy if users have not made it clear that their intention is to “report.” The Board is also concerned that the content was not reviewed within the HIPO system.
This case may indicate a wider problem. The Board has considered a number of complaints on errors in enforcing the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, particularly in languages other than English. This raises serious concerns, especially for journalists and human rights defenders. In addition, sanctions for breaching the policy are unclear and severe.
The Oversight Board’s decision
The Oversight Board overturns Meta’s original decision to remove the post.
The Board recommends that Meta:
- Investigate why changes to the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy were not translated within the target timeframe, and prevent such delays being repeated.
- Make the public explanation of its “strike” system more comprehensive and accessible.
- Narrow the definition of “praise” in the Known Questions (internal guidance for moderators) by removing the example of content that “seeks to make others think more positively about” dangerous organizations.
- Revise its Implementation Standards (internal guidance for moderators) to clarify that the reporting allowance in the Dangerous Individuals Organizations policy permits positive statements. The Known Questions should clarify the importance of protecting news reporting in conflict or crisis situations.
- Assess the accuracy with which reviewers enforce the reporting allowance to the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy to identify the cause of errors.
- Conduct a review of the HIPO system to examine whether it can more effectively prioritize potential errors in enforcing exceptions to the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy.
- Increase the capacity allocated to HIPO review across all languages.
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.