After FB reinstated a post it initially removed under its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, its Oversight Board reviewed the decision and commended it, while cautioning the social media giant against bias.
Facebook reinstated the content on an Egyptian user’s page after the user contested the removal.
The tech giant's Oversight Board voiced its approval on September 14, 2021.
“The Oversight Board agrees that Facebook was correct to reverse its original decision to remove content on Facebook that shared a news post about a threat of violence from the Izz al Din al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian group Hamas,” the board said in a written statement.
The Facebook user in Egypt, with more than 15,000 followers, had shared a news post from Al Jazeera Arabic on May 10, 2021, commenting only “ooh”, which the Oversight Board found to be a neutral statement. According to the Oversight Board, Facebook “originally removed the content under the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Community Standard, and restored it after the Board selected this case for review.
“The Board concludes that removing the content did not reduce offline harm and restricted freedom of expression on an issue of public interest.”
The content from Al Jazeera Arabic displayed a photo with two men in camouflage fatigues with their faces covered, “wearing headbands with the insignia of the Al Qassam Brigades.” The text of the Al Jazeera Arabic news post stated "The resistance leadership in the common room gives the occupation a respite until 18:00 to withdraw its soldiers from Al Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood otherwise he who warns is excused. Abu Ubaida – Al Qassam Brigades military spokesman."
According to Facebook’s Dangerous Organizations and Individuals Community Standard, both the Al Qassam Brigades and their spokesperson Abu Ubaida are designated as “dangerous.”
Facebook initially removed the Egyptian user’s post for violating this policy. The user “appealed the case to the [Oversight] Board. As a result of the Board selecting this case, Facebook concluded it had removed the content in error and restored it.”
Facebook wrote in a post that they “welcome” the Oversight Board’s decision and that Facebook had “previously reinstated” the content after going over it and deciding that it did not violate their policies. Facebook said the post was “removed in error” and that “no further action” will be taken on this content.
Facebook also noted that they will “conduct a review of the recommendations provided by the board in addition to their decision.”
The Oversight Board explained its reasoning by saying the news came from a legitimate outlet, and that users have a right to repost news from media as much as the outlets themselves. They further noted that “The original Al Jazeera post it shared was never removed and the Al Qassam Brigades’ threat of violence was widely reported elsewhere.”
Moreover, Facebook was “unable to explain” why two human reviewers originally judged the content to violate Dangerous Organizations and Individuals Community Standard. Facebook told the Oversight Board that “moderators are not required to record their reasoning for individual content decisions.”
The Board asked Facebook “whether the company had received official and unofficial requests from Israel to remove content related to the April-May conflict.” While Facebook said that it had not received “a valid legal request” from a government authority, it did not provide further information sought by the Board.
Public comments for the case “included allegations that Facebook has disproportionately removed or demoted content from Palestinian users and content in Arabic, especially in comparison to its treatment of posts threatening anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian violence within Israel,” the Oversight Board wrote.
For example, Jillian C. York, writing on behalf of the free speech advocacy organisation the Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes “In the case in question [2021-009-FB-UA PC-10172], the speech was not by Hamas or Izz al Din al Qassam Brigades, but rather, was posted by a verified and respected news organization. The question of legality as presented by Facebook, in this case, is therefore seemingly irrelevant and should therefore not be taken into account.”
She contends that since Facebook has “voluntarily restored the content,” her argument will “therefore be on how the company should proceed with respect to this policy. Facebook has chosen to be a global platform with a diverse user base, but this particular rule reflects a US-centric, colonial outlook. If, as it has been argued, Facebook does not have a legal obligation to remove the content in question, then the company should review its “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” policy, taking into account the global nature of its user base, and the historically uneven application of this rule toward Islamic organizations.”
There are also the viewpoints that support Israel: a professor at Oklahoma University whose name is withheld, writes “We must be pretty tolerant of harm. In this case, however, the language is a mere threat and doesn’t add to the marketplace. Rather, it undermines it. It undermines discussion. Threats make people defensive and more likely to fight and not be open-minded. In addition, Hamas is not the same thing as Palestinians. It’s not a vulnerable group. It’s a terrorist organization.”
The Oversight Board seems to grasp the complexity of the issue at hand, saying “At the same time, Facebook has been criticized for not doing enough to remove content that incites violence against Israeli civilians.”
On a final note, “The Board recommends an independent review of these important issues, as well as greater transparency with regard to its treatment of government requests.”