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Facebook Oversight Board overturns removal of post critical of BJP, RSS

Facebook’s Oversight Board has overturned a decision of the company to remove a post which had claimed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were threatening Sikhs with genocide. The Board, which acts as a court of appeals of sorts to Facebook, said that Facebook’s removal of the post was not consistent with its Community Standards or to its human rights responsibilities. It also “urged” the company to take action so as to avoid mistakes which silence the voices of religious minorities.

The post was created in November 2020, when a user shared a Punjabi video of an interview a social activist, along with a caption that said RSS and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party were “moving towards extremism”. The user said that RSS was threatening to kill Sikhs and repeat the deadly saga of the 1984 riots. They also claimed that Modi himself , or advice from RSS chief Mohan  Bhagwat, was formulating the genocide.

The post was initially pulled down by Facebook, after another user reported the post and a human reviewer found it to have violated Facebook’s Dangerous Individuals and Organisations Community Standard. Facebook had told the user it could not review the user’s appeal against the removal due to reduced functioning capacity due to the COVID19 pandemic.

The Board picked up the case to review in February 2021, sometime after which Facebook itself decided to restore the post. Facebook had supposedly found that none of groups or people mentioned in the content could be designated as “dangerous”.

The Board, in its decision announced on Thursday, said that the post had highlighted concerns of minorities and opposition voices in India “that are allegedly being discriminated against by the government”.

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” It is particularly important that Facebook takes steps to avoid mistakes which silence such voices. While recognizing the unique circumstances of COVID-19, the Board argued that Facebook did not give adequate time or attention to reviewing this content. It stressed that users should be able to appeal cases to Facebook before they come to the Board and urged the company to prioritize restoring this capacity” — Oversight Board decision

The Board also found that the account restrictions places on the user’s account after the initial removal of the post were disproportionate. It also made a few policy recommendations to Facebook:

  • Translate Community Standards and its implementation standards into Punjabi. “Facebook should also aim to make its Community Standards accessible in all languages widely spoken by its users.”
  • Restore human review of content moderation to pre-pandemic levels, while protecting health of its staff and contractors.
  • Make data on error rates more transparent by making it viewable by country and language for each Community Standard in its periodic transparency reports.

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