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Oversight board overturns Facebook's removal of four posts

Social media mobile app icons on a smartphone for social networking on the go. (UPI/Shutterstock/Twin Design)
Social media mobile app icons on a smartphone for social networking on the go. (UPI/Shutterstock/Twin Design)

Jan. 28 (UPI) -- An oversight board composed of experts outside Facebook announced Thursday its first rulings on the company's removal of posts, reversing the social media company's decisions in four of five cases.

The board reviewed five posts that were deleted by Facebook based on the social media giant's policies against hate speech, nudity and COVID-19 misinformation.

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It upheld one of Facebook's decisions and overturned four, citing vagueness in Facebook rules and protection of freedom of expression. Though Facebook is under no legal obligation to abide by the board's rulings, the company said it would implement them.

In one case related to COVID-19 misinformation and imminent harm, Facebook responded by agreeing its policies could be more clear and agreeing to update them, while defending its approach.

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The case involved a post criticizing the lack of health strategy in France and including false claims of a cure for COVID-19.

The oversight board found that the political commentary did not "rise to the level of imminent harm," because the combination of medicines that the post claimed to be a cure were not available without a prescription in France and the post didn't encourage people to buy or take drugs without a prescription. The board also recommended more transparency on how Facebook moderates health misinformation.

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"We agree that these policies could be clearer and intend to publish updated COVID-19 misinformation policies soon," Facebook said in a statement. "We do believe, however, that it is critical for everyone to have access to accurate information, and our current approach in removing misinformation is based on extensive consultation with leading scientists, including from the CDC and WHO."

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The board also overturned Facebook's decision to remove a post from a user in Brazil under its nudity standard. With a title in Portuguese indicating it was for breast cancer awareness, the post had photos of breast cancer symptoms, which included uncovered female nipples.

Facebook restored the post prior to the board's ruling, making the case moot, but the board criticized the lack of sufficient human oversight for automated decisions.

"As Facebook's rules treat male and female nipples differently, using inaccurate automation to enforce these rules disproportionately affects women's freedom of expression," the board found.

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The board also overturned Facebook's decision to remove a post related to hate speech based at least in part on some translation differences in the post written in Burmese.

Facebook interpreted the post as saying "[there is} something wrong with Muslims psychologically," but the board translated the post as "[t]hose male Muslims have something wrong in their mindset."

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The board said that the post should also be considered in its context, which was "a commentary on the apparent inconsistency between Muslims' reactions to events in France and China."

It added that while the post may be considered offensive to Muslims, it did not "reach the level of hate speech."

The board also overturned a Facebook decision to remove a post with a quote incorrectly attributed to Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, which in English, stated the truth didn't matter and was subordinate to tactics and psychology.

The user said in their appeal their intent was to draw a comparison between the sentiment in the quote and then-President Donald Trump.

"Facebook claimed that posts which share a quote attributed to a dangerous individual are treated as expressing support for them, unless the user provides additional context to make their intent explicit," the board said. "Facebook removed the post because the user did not make clear that they shared the quote to condemn Joseph Goebbels, to counter extremism or hate speech, or for academic or news purposes."

The board recommended that Facebook always notify the user of the reasons for any enforcement of community standards against them and better inform users on how to make their intent clear when discussing dangerous individuals.

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The board upheld Facebook's decision to remove a November post from Russia for violating it hate speech policies where a user posted a demeaning slur against Azerbaijani people.

Facebook said it would begin implementing the board's decisions within seven days and respond to the board's recommendations for new policies within 30 days.

The Oversight Board announced last week it would also review Facebook's indefinite ban on Trump.

The board said it will soon open public comment on the case involving Trump.

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