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Do we need social media rules for what you can say about child marriage?

Is it OK to talk about child marriage in a positive way on social media? Meta’s oversight board is investigating if there should be recommendations about child marriage on the company’s sites like Facebook and Instagram. Child marriages are legal in certain jurisdictions but criticised as a violation of human rights law by others.

UN Women says “early or child marriage is a human rights violation that denies girls the opportunity to develop to their full potential and has far-reaching consequences on their health and well-being.” 

“Research has found that girls who are married before 18 years of age are more likely to earn less over their lifetime and live in poverty with their children”, UN Women says adding that there is an urgent need for reform to end the legalisation of child marriage worldwide.

In January 2024, an Instagram user posted a short video in Farsi on an account with information about beauty salon services and a beauty school in Iran. In the video, a beautician prepares a 14-year-old girl for her wedding, with clips showing the child before and after her make-up session. 

The beautician and the child talk about education, age, marriage arrangements and the results of the make-up session.

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The text overlay on the video states that the child is the youngest bride of the year. 

The caption, also in Farsi, provides details for the beautician’s services. 

The content was viewed about 10.9 million times, received about 200,000 reactions, about 20,000 comments and was shared less than 1,000 times.

The content was reported by 203 users and was also detected by Meta’s system that is meant to stop potentially violating content predicted to have a high likelihood of going viral. Following a review, Meta concluded the content did not violate any of its policies and kept it up.

In February 2024, the content was escalated by one of Meta’s Trusted Partners for additional human review. This time, Meta removed the video for violating its human exploitation policy, which prohibits sharing content that recruits people for, facilitates, or exploits people through human trafficking including forced marriages. 

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Meta informed the board that it considers child marriage a form of forced marriage as minors under the age of 18 cannot fully consent.

The company explained that while the human exploitation policy does not explicitly prohibit support or praise for child marriage, it aims to eradicate all types of “exploitation of humans,” which includes supporting child marriage. This is especially relevant when the content may result in financial gain for the user.

Meta referred this case to the board saying it considers this case significant and difficult because “it highlights the issue of promotion or glorification of human exploitation (including child marriage), which is not explicitly covered under [Meta’s] policies … and because child marriages are legal in certain jurisdictions but criticised as a violation of human rights law by others.”

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