Oversight Board Overturns Meta’s Original Decision in Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces Video Captive Case

The Oversight Board has overturned Meta’s original decision to leave up a video that shows armed men in Sudan, from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), detaining someone in the back of a military vehicle. The video violates both the Dangerous Organizations and Individuals and Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime Community Standards. The Board is concerned that Meta did not remove the content – which shows a prisoner of war and includes support for a group designated by the company as dangerous – quickly enough. This indicates broader issues around both effective content enforcement during armed conflicts and how content revealing the identity (“outing”) of a prisoner of war is reviewed. The Board calls on Meta to develop a scalable solution to proactively identify content outing prisoners of war during an armed conflict. 

About the Case 

On August 27, 2023, a Facebook user posted a video of armed men in Sudan detaining a person in the back of a military vehicle. A man speaking in Arabic identifies himself as a member of the RSF and claims the group has captured a foreign national, likely a combatant associated with the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). The man goes on to say they will deliver him to the RSF leadership, and that they intend to find and capture the leaders of the SAF as well as any of the SAF’s foreign associates in Sudan. The video includes derogatory remarks about foreign nationals and leaders of other nations supporting the SAF, while the accompanying caption states in Arabic, “we know that there are foreigners fighting side by side with the devilish Brotherhood brigades.” 

In April 2023, an armed conflict broke out in Sudan between the RSF paramilitary group and the SAF, which is the official government’s military force. Approximately 7.3 million people have been displaced because of the conflict, with more than 25 million facing severe food insecurity. Sudanese human rights organizations have reported that the RSF has detained more than 5,000 people, keeping them in inhumane conditions. There are reports that both sides have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Meta has designated the RSF under its Dangerous Organizations and Individuals Community Standard. 

Shortly after the video was posted, three Facebook users reported the content but due to a low severity (likelihood of violating community standards) and low virality (number of views) score, they were not prioritized for human review and the content left up. One of the users appealed but this report was closed because of Meta’s COVID-19 automation policies. The same user then appealed to the Oversight Board. After the Board brought the case to Meta’s attention, the company removed the Facebook post under its Dangerous Organizations and Individuals Community Standard, also applying both a standard and severe strike to the profile of the person who posted the video. 

Key Findings 

The content violates Meta’s Dangerous Organizations and Individuals Community Standard because it contains support for a group designated by the company as a Tier 1 dangerous organization – specifically by “channeling information or resources, including official communications” on the organization’s behalf. The man seen speaking in the video identifies himself as part of the RSF, describes its activities, speaks of the actions the group is taking and directly names the RSF commander, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. The Board finds that removal of this content, which includes threats to anyone who opposes or challenges the RSF, is necessary and proportionate. 

In previous decisions, the Board has emphasized its concern around the lack of transparency of Meta’s designated organizations and individuals list. Given the situation in Sudan, where the RSF has de facto influence or control over parts of the country, civilians who rely on Facebook, including the RSF’s communications channels, for critical security and humanitarian information, could be at greater risk through the restrictions placed on those communications channels. 

Additionally, the Board finds this content violates the Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime policy because it shows a captured man who is fully visible and described in the video as a “foreign captive” associated with the SAF. Meta’s policy does not allow for the identity of a prisoner of war to be exposed during an armed conflict. Removing the video is necessary given the specific rules of international humanitarian law to protect detainees in armed conflict. The Board is concerned that this content was not identified and removed for violating Meta’s rule against outing prisoners of war. This lack of enforcement is likely because this rule is currently enforced on escalation-only, meaning human reviewers moderating content at-scale cannot take action themselves. In fact, the rule can only be enforced if brought to the attention of Meta’s escalations-only teams by some other means, for example, Trusted Partners or content with significant press coverage. 

Finally, the Board is also concerned that Meta failed to remove this content immediately or shortly after it was posted. Meta’s automated systems failed to correctly identify a violation in this video, indicating a broader issue of enforcement. The Board believes that changes need to be made to allow more content supporting dangerous organizations to be sent for human review when it relates to armed conflicts. 

The Oversight Board’s Decision 

The Oversight Board has overturned Meta’s original decision to leave up the video. 

The Board recommends that Meta: 

  • Develop a scalable solution to enforce the Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime policy that prohibits outing prisoners of war within the context of armed conflict. There should be a specialized team to prioritize and proactively identify content outing prisoners of war during a conflict. 
  • Audit the training data used in its video content understanding classifier to evaluate whether it has sufficiently diverse examples of content supporting designated organizations in the context of armed conflicts, including different languages, dialects, regions and conflicts. 
  • Include a hyperlink to the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations and Specially Designated Global Terrorists lists in its Community Standards, where these lists are mentioned. 

For Further Information

To read the full decision, click here.

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

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