Oversight Board Overturns Meta’s Original Decisions in Political Dispute Ahead of Turkish Elections Cases

The Oversight Board has overturned Meta’s original decisions to remove the posts of three Turkish media organizations, all containing a similar video of a politician confronting another in public, using the term “İngiliz uşağı,” which translates as “servant of the British.” The Board finds that the term is not hate speech under Meta’s policies. Furthermore, Meta’s failure to qualify the content as permissible “reporting,” or to apply the public newsworthiness allowance, made it difficult for the outlets to freely report on issues of public interest. The Board recommends that Meta make public an exception for permissible reporting on slurs.

About the Cases

For these decisions, the Board considers three posts – two on Facebook, one on Instagram – from three different Turkish media organizations, all independently owned. They contain a similar video featuring a former Member of Parliament (MP) of the ruling party confronting a member of the main opposition party in the aftermath of the Turkish earthquakes in February 2023. In the run-up to the Turkish elections, the earthquakes were expected to significantly impact voting patterns.

The video shows Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, a key opposition figure, visiting one of the most heavily impacted cities when he is confronted by a former MP, who shouts that he is “showing off,” calls him a “servant of the British,” and tells him to return to “his own” city. Both the public and expert commentators confirm the phrase “İngiliz uşağı” is understood by Turkish speakers to mean “a person who acts for the interests and benefits” of Britain or the West in general.

Meta removed all three posts for violating its Hate Speech policy rule against slurs. Although several of Meta’s mistake-prevention systems had been engaged, including cross-check, which led to the posts in each case undergoing several rounds of human review, this did not result in the content being restored.

In total, the posts were viewed across the three accounts more than 1,100,000 times before being removed.

While the three users were notified they had violated the Hate Speech Community Standard, they were not told the specific rule they had broken. Additionally, feature limits to the accounts of two of the media organizations were applied, which prevented one from being able to create new content for 24 hours, and another losing its ability to livestream video for three days.

After the Board identified the cases, Meta decided that its original decisions were wrong because the term “İngiliz uşağı” should not have been on its slur lists, and it restored the content. Separately, Meta had been conducting an annual audit of its slur lists for Turkey ahead of the elections, which led to the term “İngiliz uşağı” being removed in April 2023.

Key Findings

The role of the media in reporting information across the digital ecosystem is critical. The Board concludes that removing the three posts was an unnecessary and disproportionate restriction on the rights of individuals in the Turkish media organizations and on access to information for their audience. Furthermore, Meta’s measures in these cases made it difficult for two of the three organizations to freely share their reporting for the duration of the feature limits on their accounts. This had real impact since the earthquakes and run-up to the elections made access to independent local news especially important.

The Board finds that the term “İngiliz uşağı” is not hate speech under Meta’s policies because it does not attack people on the basis of “a protected characteristic.” The public confrontation in the videos involves politicians from competing political parties. Since the term used has historically functioned as political criticism in Türkiye (Turkey), it is political speech on a matter of significant public interest in the context of elections.

Even if Meta had designated the term correctly as a slur, the content should nevertheless have been allowed because of its public interest value. The Board is concerned the three posts were not escalated for an assessment under the newsworthiness allowance by Meta’s Core Policy Team.

Meta’s policies also allow people to share hate speech and slurs to raise awareness of them, provided the user’s intent is clear. In responses to these cases, Meta has explained that in order to “qualify as reporting that is awareness raising, it is not enough to restate that someone else used hate speech or a slur. Instead, we [Meta] need specific additional context.” None of the media organizations in these cases would have qualified because the content was shared with a neutral caption, which would not have been considered sufficient context. The politician’s use of the term in the video was not the main story being told, so a caption focused on explaining or condemning it would not have made sense. Rather, the main news story was the disagreement between politicians in the context of the earthquake response.

Finally, the Board finds that Meta should make public that reporting on hate speech is permitted, ideally in a standalone exception that distinguishes journalistic “reporting” from “raising awareness.” Meta’s internal guidance seems to permit broader exceptions than those communicated publicly to users at present. This information would be especially important to help media organizations to report on incidents during which a slur has been used by third parties in a matter of public interest, including when it is not the main point of the news story. The framing of this information should recognize that media outlets and others engaged in journalism may not always state intent for “raising awareness,” in order to impartially report on current events.

The Oversight Board’s Decision

The Oversight Board overturns Meta’s original decisions to remove three posts.

The Board recommends that Meta:

  1. Revise the Hate Speech Community Standard to explicitly protect journalistic reporting on slurs when such reporting, in particular in the context of elections, does not create an atmosphere of exclusion and/or intimidation. This exception should be made public, be separate from the “raising awareness” exception, and make clear to users, especially in the media, how such content should be contextualized. There should also be appropriate training to moderators, especially outside of English languages, to ensure respect for journalism.
  2. Ensure the Hate Speech Community Standard has clearer explanations of each exception, with illustrative examples, to ensure greater clarity about when slurs can be used.
  3. Expedite audits of its slur lists in countries with elections for the remainder of 2023 and early 2024, with the goal of identifying and removing terms mistakenly added to those lists.

For Further Information

To read the full decision, click here.

To read the case summary in Turkish, please click the attachment below.

To read a synopsis of public comments for this case, please click here.

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