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Meta's hate speech rules need updating.

Meta by mistake removed posts condeming violence against women

It is critical that Meta by mistake does not remove statements that condemn and raise awareness of gender-based violence, Meta’s Oversight Board says. The Board has overturned Meta’s decisions to remove two Instagram posts which condemned gender-based violence. Meta had removed both posts for violating its rules against hate speech.

The Board recommends Meta to include exception for allowing content that condemns or raises awareness of gender-based violence in the hate speech policy. The company should also update its internal guidance to reviewers to ensure such posts are not mistakenly removed.

The case is about two posts from an Instagram user in Sweden. Meta removed both posts for violating its hate speech rules. After the Board identified the cases, Meta decided that the first post had been removed in error but maintained its decision on the second post.

The first post contains a video with an audio recording and its transcription, both in Swedish, of a woman describing her experience in a violent intimate relationship. It says that there is a culture of blaming victims of gender-based violence, and little understanding of how difficult it is for women to leave a violent partner. 

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The caption says, “men murder, rape and abuse women mentally and physically – all the time, every day.” It also shares information about support organizations for victims of intimate partner violence, mentions the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and says it hopes women reading the post will realize they are not alone.

The second post, also shared on Instagram, contains a video of a woman speaking in Swedish and pointing at words written in Swedish on a notepad. In the video, the speaker says that although she is a man-hater, she does not hate all men. She also states that she is a man-hater for condemning misogyny and that hating men is rooted in fear of violence. Meta removed the content for violating its rules on hate speech. The user appealed the removal to Meta, but the company upheld its original decision after human review. After being informed that the Board had selected this case, Meta did not change its position.

“Since at least 2017, digital campaigns have highlighted that Facebook’s hate speech policies result in the removal of phrases associated with calling attention to gender-based violence and harassment. For example, women and activists have coordinated posting phrases such as “men are trash” and “ men are scum” and protested their subsequent removal on the grounds of being anti-men hate speech” , the Board says.

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The Board’s key findings:

The Board finds that neither of the two posts violates Meta’s rules on hate speech.

  • On the first post, the Board finds that the statement “Men murder, rape and abuse women mentally and physically – all the time, every day” is a qualified statement which does not violate Meta’s Hate Speech policy. Given that the post refers to international campaigns against violence against women and provides local resources for organizations that work to help women victims, it is clear the language describes men who commit violence against women.
  • In addition, the Board finds that the second post is not an expression of contempt towards men but condemns violence against women and discusses the roots of gender-based hate. While Meta argues that the user’s statement that she does not hate all men does not impact the assessment of other parts of the post, the Board disagrees and assesses the post as a whole. 
  • The Board finds that the other aspects of the post that Meta cited as potentially violating are not violating when read within the context of the post. Some Board Members disagreed that the posts in question did not violate Meta’s hate speech rules.

The Board says it is concerned that Meta’s approach to enforcing gender-based hate speech may result in the disproportionate removal of content raising awareness of and condemning gender-based violence. 

“Meta states, for example, that the first post should be allowed on its platforms and that the Hate Speech policy is “designed to allow room for raising awareness of gender-based violence.” However, neither the public-facing policy nor its internal guideline documents to moderators contain clear guidance to ensure that posts like these would not be mistakenly removed.” 

“The company’s confusing guidance makes it virtually impossible for moderators to reach the right conclusion. While Meta relied on contextual cues to determine the first post was not violating once it was identified by the Board, the company’s guidance for moderators limits the possibility of contextual analysis significantly.

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