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Meta Oversight Board says Facebook erroneously removed criticism of Russia in Ukraine

The Meta Oversight Board has overturned a Facebook moderation decision about a post comparing Russian soldiers to Nazis, saying that during an “unlawful military intervention”, Meta should exercise special caution.

The decision of the semi-independent council, published today, concerns a Facebook post published by a Latvian user. The post shows an image of a person killed in Bucha, Ukraine, combined with a Russian text stating that the Russian military “turned fascist”. (Notably, the photo shows no violent wounds and so would not normally trigger a graphic content policy.) The post ends with a 1940s Soviet poem with the lines “Kill the fascist… Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!” Kill!”

Meta removed the post for violating hate speech guidelines, but reinstated it after a complaint to the Oversight Board and added a warning screen for violent and explicit content.

“Neither Meta’s human rights responsibilities nor its community standard for hate speech protect soldiers from claims of flagrant misconduct”

The Oversight Board found that the poem was a rhetorical device and that the comparison did not violate Meta’s hate speech policy as written. The post, it said, made a historical case for comparing the behavior of Russian soldiers to Nazis at one point in time, not making a general claim that Russians were similar to Nazis.

“Neither Meta’s human rights responsibilities nor its hate speech standard protect soldiers from claims of flagrant misconduct or prevent provocative comparisons between their actions and past events,” the board said. It also felt that the violent content policy should not have been applied, noting that it vaguely applied to photos of “violent” deaths – with no further clarification that could help users figure out the norm.

More broadly, the Oversight Board urged Meta to consider the context of a violent conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which the board says is widely considered illegal. “The use of force in self-defense against such acts of aggression is permitted” according to international agreements, the board notes. “If violence per se is legal under international law, incitement to such violence raises several considerations that need to be examined separately.”

The post was posted in April 2022, about two months after Russia began its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Global human rights defenders, including that of the United Nations, have determined that the Russian army has indiscriminately or deliberately attacked Ukrainian civilians. In March 2022, Russian troops reportedly massacred civilians in Bucha – possibly including the subject of the Facebook photo.

While the board believed this post did not violate Facebook’s rules in general, it asked Meta to change its conflict of war policies “to account for the circumstances of unlawful military intervention.” The Board offered no specific proposed language for such a change.

The board also recommends clearer public rules for posts containing potentially violent imagery or language, saying that Meta should allow “neutral reference to a possible outcome of an action or an advisory warning” — even if that potential outcome involves violence. Specifically, the board asks Meta to explore the possibility of letting users decide whether they want to see warning screens for graphical content, with the option to disable them by default.

The decision is part of Meta’s longstanding struggle to monitor content during violent conflict. The company has been harshly criticized for allowing users to fuel genocidal violence in Myanmar, but in this case the Oversight Board is urging the company to adopt a looser standard for an ongoing war – which, it notes one party has broad international support.

Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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