/Facebook’s Oversight Board overturns firms decision to remove a post in first Indian case

Facebook’s Oversight Board overturns firms decision to remove a post in first Indian case

New Delhi: Announcing its decision in the first Indian case on Friday, social media giant Facebook’s Oversight Board said it has overturned the company’s decision to remove a post under its Violence and Incitement Community Standard in the country.

The board said while the company considered that the post contained a veiled threat, a majority of the board members believed it should be restored. This decision will only be implemented pending user notification and consent, the board said.

In the case referred to the board by Facebook, a user posted a photo in a Facebook group in late October last year, depicting a man in leather armour holding a sheathed sword in his right hand.

The photo had a text overlay in Hindi that discusses drawing a sword from its scabbard in response to ‘infidels’ criticising the prophet. The accompanying text in English included hashtags calling French president Emmanuel Macron ‘the devil’ and calling for the boycott of French products.

Facebook had removed the content for violating its policy on violence and incitement and stated in its referral to the board that it considered the case to be significant because the content could convey a ‘veiled threat’ with a specific reference to an individual.

Facebook also referred to heightened tensions in France at the time when the user posted the content.

Referring to its decision, the board said the majority of the board members didn’t think the post was likely to cause harm and questioned Facebook’s rationale which indicated that threats of violence against Muslims increased Facebook’s sensitivity to such threats, but also increased sensitivity when moderating content from this group. While a minority viewed the post as threatening some form of violent response to blasphemy, the majority considered the references to president Macron and the boycott of French products as calls to action that were not necessarily violent. The majority of board members interpreted the post as criticizing Macron’s response to religiously motivated violence and not as threatening violence in itself.

Board member Sudhir Krishnaswamy, vice chancellor of the National Law School of India University said it was a ‘careful decision’ based on the context in which the post was placed.

“A majority took the view that there was no evidence of any violence. The post alludes to being in the India geography. There were protests in France and in other parts of the world but not in the geography in which the post occurred. There was no particular threat,” he added.

Krishnaswamy said both case references and case decisions being taken by the board are now picking up pace.

As a policy advisory recommendation, the board also recommended in this case that Facebook should provide users with additional information regarding the scope and enforcement of restrictions on veiled threats as that would help users understand what content is allowed in the area. “Facebook should make their enforcement criteria public. They should consider the intent and identity of the user, as well as their audience and the wider context,” the board said.

Majority of the board members were also of the opinion that under international human rights standards, people have the right to seek, receive and impart ideas and opinions of all kinds, including those that may be controversial or deeply offensive. They considered that just as people have the right to criticize religions or religious figures, religious people also have the right to express offense at certain expressions.

Referring to the second Indian case, Krishnaswamy said the normal cycle of decision making would be followed as it is not an expedited review case.

Facebook’s Oversight Board had said on Tuesday that it has accepted a new case from India concerning a user post on prime minister Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which also makes some references to the Sikh farmers.

The case concerns a user who shared a post from Punjabi online media platform Global Punjab TV with accompanying text claiming that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and prime minister Narendra Modi are threatening the Sikhs with genocide.

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