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Meta board allows video revealing identity of sex abuse victims

Meta’s Oversight Board has taken a controversial decision accepting video revealing the identities of child victims of sexual abuse and murder from Pakistan in the 1990. The board has overturned Meta’s decision to take down the documentary video posted by Voice of America (VOA) Urdu. The majority of the board says the video is so newsworthy it should be allowed.

“These Board Members believe the ongoing public interest in reporting on child abuse outweighs the potential harms from identification to the victims, who did not survive these crimes that took place 25 years ago”, the board explains. 

“Broadly factual in nature and sensitive to the victims, VOA Urdu’s documentary could have informed public debate on the widespread issue of child sexual abuse, which is underreported in Pakistan.” 

“This case also highlights how Meta could better communicate to users which policies do and which policies do not benefit from exceptions.”

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In January 2022, the broadcaster posted on its Facebook page an 11-minute documentary about Javed Iqbal, who murdered and sexually abused approximately 100 children in Pakistan in the 1990s. 

The documentary, in Urdu, includes disturbing details of the crimes and the perpetrator’s trial. 

There are images of newspaper clips that clearly show the faces of the child victims along with their names, while other footage of people in tears could be relatives. The post’s caption mentions that a different film about the crimes had recently been in the news, and it also warns viewers about the documentary’s contents. 

This post was viewed about 21.8 million times and shared about 18,000 times.

67 users reported the post. Meta first allowed the video but reconsidering, Meta’s policy team overturned the original decision to keep the post up and removed it for violating the Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Nudity policy. 

The company decided not to grant a newsworthiness allowance. Meta then referred this case to the board to have its opinion.

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The majority of the Board finds that Meta should have applied the newsworthiness allowance to this content, keeping the post on Facebook. The majority noted that the documentary had been produced to raise awareness, does not sensationalise the gruesome details and, significantly, the crimes took place about 25 years ago, with none of the victims surviving. 

“This passage of time is the most important factor because it means possible direct harms to the child victims had diminished. Meanwhile, the public interest in child abuse remains”, the board says in a statement.

A board minority notes that while the video raised issues of public interest, it was possible for those issues to be discussed in detail without showing the names and faces of the victims, and therefore the content should have been removed.

The Board expresses alarm at the length of time (18 months) it took for Meta to finally make a decision on this content, by which time it had been viewed 21.8 million times.

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