Oversight Board overturns Meta’s original decision in “Russian poem” case
The Oversight Board has overturned Meta’s original decision to remove a Facebook post comparing the Russian army in Ukraine to Nazis and quoting a poem that calls for the killing of fascists. It has also overturned Meta’s finding that an image of what appears to be a dead body in the same post violated the Violent and Graphic Content policy. Meta had applied a warning screen to the image on the grounds that it violated the policy. This case raises some important issues about content moderation in conflict situations.
About the case
In April 2022, a Facebook user in Latvia posted an image of what appears to be a dead body, face down, in a street. No wounds are visible. Meta confirmed to the Board that the person was shot in Bucha, Ukraine.
The Russian text accompanying the image argues that the alleged atrocities Soviet soldiers committed in Germany in World War Two were excused on the basis that they avenged the crimes Nazi soldiers had committed in the USSR. It draws a connection between the Nazi army and the Russian army in Ukraine, saying the Russian army “became fascist.”
The post cites alleged atrocities committed by the Russian army in Ukraine and says that “after Bucha, Ukrainians will also want to repeat... and will be able to repeat.” It ends by quoting the poem “Kill him!” by Soviet poet Konstantin Simonov, including the lines: “kill the fascist... Kill him! Kill him! Kill!”
The post was reported by another Facebook user and removed by Meta for violating its Hate Speech Community Standard. After the Board selected the case, Meta found it had wrongly removed the post and restored it. Three weeks later, it applied a warning screen to the image under its Violent and Graphic Content policy.
The Board finds that removing the post, and later applying the warning screen, do not align with Facebook’s Community Standards, Meta’s values, or its human rights responsibilities.
The Board finds that, rather than making general accusations that “Russian soldiers are Nazis,” the post argues that they acted like Nazis in a particular time and place, and draws historical parallels. The post also targets Russian soldiers because of their role as combatants, not because of their nationality. In this context, neither Meta’s human rights responsibilities nor its Hate Speech Community Standard protect soldiers from claims of egregious wrongdoing or prevent provocative comparisons between their actions and past events.
The Board emphasizes the importance of context in assessing whether content is urging violence. In this case, the Board finds that the quotes from the poem “Kill him!” are an artistic and cultural reference employed as a rhetorical device. When read in the context of the whole post, the Board finds that the quotes are being used to describe, rather than encourage, a state of mind. They warn of cycles of violence and the potential for history to repeat itself in Ukraine.
Meta’s internal guidance for moderators clarifies that the company interprets its Violence and Incitement Community Standard to allow such “neutral reference[s] to a potential outcome” and “advisory warning[s].” However, this is not explained in the public Community Standards. Likewise, the Violent and Graphic Content policy prohibits images depicting a violent death. Internal guidance for moderators describes how Meta determines whether a death appears violent, but this is not included in the public policy.
In this case, a majority of the Board finds that the image in the post does not include clear indicators of violence which, according to Meta’s internal guidance for moderators, would justify the use of a warning screen.
Overall, the Board finds that this post is unlikely to exacerbate violence. However, it notes that there are additional complexities in evaluating violent speech in international conflict situations where international law allows combatants to be targeted. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is internationally recognized as unlawful. The Board urges Meta to revise its policies to take into consideration the circumstances of unlawful military intervention.
The Oversight Board's decision
The Oversight Board overturns Meta's original decision to remove the post and its subsequent determination that the image in the post violated the Violent and Graphic Content policy, as a result of which Meta applied a warning screen.
The Board recommends that Meta:
- Amend the public Violence and Incitement Community Standard to clarify, based on Meta's interpretation of the policy, that it permits content that makes “neutral reference to a potential outcome.”
- Include an explanation of how it determines whether an image depicts “the violent death of a person,” in the public Violent and Graphic Content Community Standard.
- Assess the feasibility of introducing tools that allow adult users to decide whether to see graphic content at all and, if so, whether to see it with or without a warning screen.
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.