Meta Oversight Board to decide whether users can post ‘all Israelis are criminals’

Independent body for Facebook, Instagram and Threads asks for public input as it reviews recent posts accused of using hate speech against whole nationalities

Anti-Israel protesters rally in Edmonton, Canada, Feb, 25, 2024, (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images, via JTA)
Anti-Israel protesters rally in Edmonton, Canada, Feb, 25, 2024, (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images, via JTA)

JTA – Should social media users be allowed to call Israelis “criminals?” What if users are specifically talking about alleged war crimes by the Israeli government?

Meta says not all cases are clear cut and that it needs help to make sure it’s striking the right balance between blocking hate speech and allowing the free expression of criticism. The task falls to the Oversight Board, an independent body that oversees content moderation on Meta platforms Facebook, Instagram and Threads.

The board will review three recent posts that Meta removed and consider recommending changes to Meta’s hate speech policies. In a post from January, a Threads user, replying to a video on the Israel-Hamas war, wrote, “All Israelis are criminals.” In December, a Facebook user writing in Arabic referred to Russians and Americans as “criminals.” In March someone commented on an Instagram post, “All Indians are rapists.”

All three cases were flagged for review by Meta’s automated systems, and the company ultimately concluded that all three violated its hate speech policy prohibiting attacks on groups of people on the basis of nationality.

But there’s sometimes room for interpretation, especially during military conflict and other crises, because users are generally allowed to make claims of criminality against states or institutions, Meta told the board.

As it considers the case, the board is asking for the public to provide perspectives on the impact of Meta policies on the ability of users to speak out against actions by governments and the impact of posts calling an entire group of people “criminals.” The board also wants suggestions for criteria to distinguish between attacks on a group of people and attacks on institutions.

It’s not the first time Meta has strained to apply its policies to real-life situations since the start of the war, which was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught in which some 1,200 people were killed in Israel, mostly civilians, and 252 were taken hostage. The board is currently evaluating whether the Palestinian rallying cry “from the river to sea” should be allowed on Meta’s platforms.

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