Oversight Board Upholds Meta’s Decision in Reporting on Pakistani Parliament Speech Case

The Oversight Board has upheld Meta’s decision to leave up a post shared by a news outlet in Pakistan that includes a video of a politician giving a speech to the country’s parliament. The post does not violate the Violence and Incitement Community Standard because it falls under the exception for “awareness raising.” Additionally, the politician’s references to public officials being sacrificed or “hanged” are figurative (non-literal) when considering the whole speech, which seeks to draw attention to Pakistan’s political crisis and lack of accountability among the establishment. In a period of turmoil, ahead of national elections, the Board considers safeguarding such speech as fundamental.

About the Case

In May 2023, an independent news outlet in Pakistan posted a video on its Facebook page of a Pakistani politician giving a speech in Urdu to the country’s parliament. The speech references what he describes as an ancient Egyptian “tradition” in which people were sacrificed to control flooding of the Nile River. The politician uses this reference to express what he thinks should happen in present-day Pakistan, also recalling a previous speech in which he said the country could not heal itself until public officials, including the military, were “hanged.” The politician implicates himself and his colleagues among the officials that need to be sacrificed, saying they are all responsible for what is happening. His speech alludes to the ongoing political crisis, with criticism aimed at the government and military establishment. The post was shared about 20,000 times and had 40,000 reactions.

The local news outlet posted the video ahead of national elections that were due to take place in 2023, but were delayed until February 2024. A time of political turmoil, which saw escalating confrontation between former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the military establishment, the country experienced political protests and growing polarization. There were crackdowns on political opponents and in Balochistan, the province where this politician’s party is based, state repression was particularly pronounced.

Over a three-month period in 2023, Meta’s automated systems identified the post as potentially violating 45 times. Two human reviewers then came to different decisions on the post, one finding it to be non-violating, the other finding that it broke the rules of the Violence and Incitement policy. As the account that shared the content was part of Meta’s cross-check program, the post was marked for an additional level of review. Ultimately, Meta’s policy and subject matter experts found the post to be non-violating. Meta referred the case to the Board because it represents tensions in its values of voice and safety when applied to political speech.

Key Findings

The Board finds the post does not violate the Violence and Incitement Community Standard because it was shared by a media outlet seeking to inform others and therefore falls under the exception for “awareness raising.” Delivered in the run-up to elections before parliament, the politician’s speech undoubtedly covered matters of public interest, including events in the political and public domain. Shared during a period of national turmoil by a local news outlet, the speech demanded “particularly high” protection. Furthermore, the post’s caption did not endorse or support the politician’s speech, rather it pointed to the strong reaction the speech generated in parliament.

At the time the post was shared in May 2023, the “awareness raising” exception was only included in Meta’s internal guidelines to reviewers, not publicly, but it has since been included in the Community Standards in line with one of the Board’s previous recommendations.

The Board also emphasizes the importance of assessing context when applying the Violence and Incitement policy to speech by politicians that could incite violence. In this case, there was no credible threat that could lead to death from the post, which was a news report of a politician using figurative speech to comment on the political crisis in Pakistan. The comparison between “hanging” officials and the ancient Egyptian myth of sacrifice is clearly metaphorical and political exaggeration, rather than an actual threat. Experts consulted by the Board confirmed that Pakistani politicians commonly use highly charged and provocative language to draw attention to issues they consider important. The politician names no specific targets in his speech; instead, he refers generally to public officials, including himself. When considered in full, his speech urgently calls for action on accountability among public officials while drawing attention to broader issues, including human rights violations against the people of Balochistan.

Therefore, the Board considers that safeguarding such speech, in the run-up to elections, is fundamental.

The Oversight Board’s Decision

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

The Board makes no new recommendations but reiterates recommendation no. 1 from the Brazilian General’s Speech decision to ensure that speech with high public interest value in the run-up to elections can be preserved on Meta’s platforms. Specifically, the Board urges Meta to speed up its implementation of a framework “for evaluating the company’s election efforts, including creating and sharing metrics.” This is particularly important given the large number of elections in 2024, including in Global Majority countries.

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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