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Facebook Oversight Board overturns Facebook’s decision to remove post critical of Myanmar Coup

Established in 2020, the Facebook Oversight Board plays a crucial role in keeping a check on the platform’s content moderation practices; the 20-member Board includes an Indian lawyer as well. 

The Facebook Oversight Board ordered Facebook to reinstate a post by a user in Myanmar which was critical of the Myanmar coup, its regime, and its ties with China. The post was initially taken down since it violated Facebook’s hate speech community standards by purportedly targetting Chinese people; however, the Oversight Board found that the post did not target Chinese people but the Chinese state. 

The Oversight Board also noticed that while the post had been viewed by half a million people and shared by over 6,000 people, no user had reported it. The public comments on the post also suggested that the overall tone of the post was a political discussion. 

Facebook has a long history of struggle with moderation in Myanmar. It has also been accused of fomenting violence in Myanmar in the past. The social media platform was briefly blocked in the country after a military coup was declared in February and once restored, it instituted a number of emergency moderation measures. Since Facebook has been accused of censoring anti-coup groups, the role of Facebook’s Oversight Board becomes important. The Facebook Oversight Board is an independent body that was set up to keep a check on Facebook’s moderation policies. 

Why it matters? This particular case is crucial in highlighting the importance of context while enforcing hate speech policies and protecting political speech.

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Key findings put forward by the Oversight Board 

  • The post used the Burmese phrase “$တရုတ်,” (ta-yote) which translates to “f***ing Chinese” and was perceived by Facebook “culturally and linguistically as an overlap of identities/meanings between China the country and the Chinese people.”
  • Facebook mentioned that the user didn’t clearly indicate whether the term refers to the government of China or the Chinese people and thus, it determined that the user is referring to Chinese people. 
  • The Board concluded that the same word is used in Burmese to refer to a state and the people from that state so context is key to understanding the meaning. 
  • The translators of the Board clarified that the word “ta-yote” means state and that there couldn’t be any possible ambiguity in the reference. They also stated that the post contained terms commonly used by Myanmar’s government and the Chinese embassy to address each other.  

Overturning Facebook’s decision to remove the post and demanding the post be restored, the Board said in its policy advisory statement:

Ensure that its Internal Implementation Standards are available in the language in which content moderators review content. If necessary to prioritize, Facebook should focus first on contexts where the risks to human rights are more severe.”

Details about the Facebook Oversight Board  

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had initiated the idea of setting up the Oversight Board back in 2018 when Facebook was called out by activists in Syria and Myanmar, among others, who demanded a more transparent approach towards  content moderation.

The Board was established in May 2020 and announced its 20 members including an Indian lawyer, Sudhir Krishnaswamy.

It has been instrumental in presiding over key cases such as upholding Facebook’s decision regarding the suspension of former US President Donal Trump from its platform for an indefinite period.

The Board has also picked up a few cases from India including overturning the removal of posts critical of BJP and RSS.

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