Oversight Board Upholds Facebook Decision in South Africa Slurs Case

The Oversight Board has upheld Facebook’s decision to remove a post discussing South African society under its Hate Speech Community Standard. The Board found that the post contained a slur which, in the South African context, was degrading, excluding and harmful to the people it targeted.

About the Case

In May 2021, a Facebook user posted in English in a public group that described itself as focused on unlocking minds. The user’s Facebook profile picture and banner photo each depict a black person. The post discussed “multi-racialism” in South Africa, and argued that poverty, homelessness, and landlessness have increased for black people in the country since 1994.

It stated that white people hold and control the majority of the wealth, and that wealthy black people may have ownership of some companies, but not control. It also stated that if “you think” sharing neighborhoods, language, and schools with white people makes you “deputy-white” then “you need to have your head examined.” The post then concluded with “[y]ou are” a “sophisticated slave,” “a clever black,” “’n goeie kaffir” or “House nigger” (hereafter redacted as “k***ir” and “n***er”).

Key Findings

Facebook removed the content under its Hate Speech Community Standard for violating its policy prohibiting the use of slurs targeted at people based on their race, ethnicity and/or national origin. The company noted that both “k***ir” and “n***er” are on Facebook’s list of prohibited slurs for the Sub-Saharan market.

The Board found removing this content to be consistent with Facebook’s Community Standards. The Board evaluated public comments and expert research in finding that both “k***ir” and “n***er” have discriminatory uses, and that “k***ir” is a particularly hateful and harmful word in the South African context.

The Board agreed with Facebook that the content did not condemn or raise awareness of the use of “k***ir,” and did not use the word in a self-referential or empowering manner. As such, no exception to the company’s Hate Speech Community Standard applied in this case.

While the user’s post discussed relevant and challenging socio-economic and political issues in South Africa, the user racialized this critique by choosing the most severe terminology possible in the country.

In the South African context, the slur “k***ir” is degrading, excluding and harmful to the people it targets. Particularly in a country still dealing with the legacy of apartheid, the use of racial slurs on the platform should be taken seriously by Facebook.

The Board supports greater transparency around Facebook’s slur list. The company should provide more information about the list, including how it is enforced in different markets and why it remains confidential.

The Board also urged Facebook to improve procedural fairness in enforcing its Hate Speech policy, issuing the recommendation below. This would help users understand why Facebook removed their content and allow them to change their behavior in the future.

The Oversight Board’s Decision

The Oversight Board upholds Facebook’s decision to remove the post.

In a policy advisory statement, the Board recommends that Facebook:

  • Notify users of the specific rule within the Hate Speech Community Standard that has been violated in the language in which they use Facebook, as recommended in case decision 2020-003-FB-UA (Armenians in Azerbaijan) and case decision 2021-002-FB-UA (Depiction of Zwarte Piet). In this case, for example, the user should have been notified they violated the slurs prohibition. The Board has noted Facebook’s response to Recommendation No. 2 in case decision 2021-002-FB-UA, which describes a new classifier that should be able to notify English-language Facebook users their content has violated the slur rule. The Board looks forward to Facebook providing information that confirms implementation for English-language users and information about the timeframe for implementation for other language users.

For Further Information:

To read the full case decision, click here.

To read a synopsis of public comments for this case, please click the attachment below.

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