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Meta criticized for removing graphic videos related to Israel-Hamas

Meta’s Oversight Board has changed the company’s decision to remove graphic content from the Israel-Hamas war. In two cases, the Board overturned Meta’s original decision to remove the content from its platforms but approved the company’s subsequent decision to restore the posts with a warning screen. The Board says it had selected the cases because of the importance of freedom of expression in conflict situations.

Both cases are representative of the types of appeals users in the region have been submitting to the Board since the October 7 attacks. 

One case concerns video posted to Facebook of an Israeli woman begging her kidnappers not to kill her as she is taken hostage on October 7. 

The other case involves a video posted to Instagram showing what appears to be the aftermath of a strike on or near Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City during Israel’s ground offensive in the north of the Gaza Strip. The post shows Palestinians, including children, killed or injured.

The Board agrees with Meta’s initial policy position, on October 7, to remove “third-party imagery depicting the moment of [designated] attacks on visible victims,” in accordance with the Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy. 

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“Protecting the dignity of hostages and ensuring they are not exposed to public curiosity should be Meta’s default approach”, the Board says. 

“In exceptional circumstances, however, when a compelling public interest or the vital interest of hostages require it, temporary and limited exceptions to this prohibition can be justified.” 

The Board finds Meta’s decision to temporarily change its initial approach — allowing such content with a warning screen when shared for purposes of condemning, awareness-raising, news reporting or calling for release — was justifiable. 

“Moreover, this change was justifiable earlier than November 16, as it became clear that Meta’s strict enforcement of the Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy was impeding expression aimed at advancing and protecting the rights and interests of the hostages and their families”, the Board writes. 

“Given the fast-moving circumstances, and the high costs to freedom of expression and access to information of removing this kind of content, Meta should have moved more quickly to adapt its policy.”

“Throughout the conflict, the rules that Meta has applied have changed several times but have not been made fully clear to users. It is also not clear under which policy the warning screen is imposed, as neither the Dangerous Organizations and Individuals nor Violence and Incitement policies provide for the use of warning screens.” 

The Board encourages Meta to clarify publicly the basis and scope of its current policy regarding content relating to the hostages taken from Israel on October 7, and its relation to the more general policies at issue.”

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