Oversight Board Overturns Meta's Original Decision in Image of Gender-Based Violence Case

The Oversight Board has overturned Meta’s original decision to leave up a Facebook post that mocks a target of gender-based violence. While Meta has since recognized this post broke its rules on Bullying and Harassment, the Board has identified a gap in Meta’s existing rules which seems to allow content that normalizes gender-based violence by praising, justifying, celebrating or mocking it (for example, in cases where the target is not identifiable, or the picture is of a fictional character). The Board recommends that Meta undertake a policy development process to address this gap.

About the Case

In May 2021, a Facebook user in Iraq posted a photo with a caption in Arabic. The photo shows a woman with visible marks of a physical attack, including bruises on her face and body. The caption begins by warning women about making a mistake when writing to their husbands. The caption states that the woman in the photo wrote a letter to her husband, which he misunderstood, according to the caption, due to the woman’s typographical error. According to the post, the husband thought the woman asked him to bring her a “donkey,” while in fact, she was asking him for a “veil.” In Arabic, the words for “donkey” and “veil” look similar (“حمار" and “خمار"). The post implies that because of the misunderstanding caused by the typographical error in her letter, the husband physically beat her. The caption then states that the woman got what she deserved. There are several laughing and smiling emojis throughout the post.

The woman depicted in the photograph is an activist from Syria whose image has been shared on social media in the past. The caption does not name her, but her face is clearly visible. The post also includes a hashtag used in conversations in Syria supporting women.

In February 2023, a Facebook user reported the content three times for violating Meta’s Violence and Incitement Community Standard. If content is not reviewed within 48 hours, the report is automatically closed, as it was in this case. The content remained on the platform for nearly two years and was not reviewed by a human moderator.

The user who reported the content appealed Meta’s decision to the Oversight Board. As a result of the Board selecting this case, Meta determined that the content violates the Bullying and Harassment policy and removed the post.

Key Findings

The Board finds that the post violates Meta’s policy on Bullying and Harassment as it mocks the serious physical injury of the woman depicted. As such, it should be removed.

However, this post would not have violated Meta’s rules on Bullying and Harassment if the woman depicted was not identifiable, or if the same caption had accompanied a picture of a fictional character. This indicates to the Board that there is a gap in existing policies that seems to allow content that normalizes gender-based violence. According to Meta, a recent policy development process on praise of violent acts focused heavily on identifying any existing enforcement gaps in treating praise of gender-based violence under various policies. As part of that process, Meta considered the policy on the issue of mocking or joking about gender-based violence. Meta informed the Board that the company determined that the Bullying and Harassment policy generally captures this content. However, as noted in the examples above, the Board finds that existing policies and their enforcement do not necessarily capture all relevant content. This case also raises concerns about how Meta is enforcing its rules on bullying and harassment. The content in this case, which included a photograph of a Syrian activist who had been physically attacked and was reported multiple times by a Facebook user, was not reviewed by a human moderator. This may indicate that Meta does not prioritize this type of violation for review.

The Oversight Board’s Decision

The Oversight Board overturns Meta’s original decision to leave up the content.

The Board recommends that Meta:

  • Undertake a policy development process to establish a policy aimed at addressing content that normalizes gender-based violence through praise, justification, celebration or mocking of gender-based violence.
  • Clarify that in the Bullying and Harassment Community Standard the term “medical condition” includes “serious physical injury.”

For Further Information

To read the full decision, click here.

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

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