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Meta needs updating policy about gender-based violence.

Meta criticized for unclear rules about gender-based violence

Meta has unclear rules for posts about gender-based violence.  This is the conclusion of two statements by the company’s Oversight Board. It has now overturned Meta’s original decision to leave up a Facebook post that mocks a target of gender-based violence. Just days earlier, the Board overturned Meta’s decisions to remove two Instagram posts which condemned gender-based violence. 

Meta had removed those two posts for violating its rules against hate speech as they for instance said  “men murder, rape and abuse women mentally and physically – all the time, every day.” 

The Board says it has identified a gap in Meta’s existing rules which seems to allow content that normalizes gender-based violence by praising, justifying, celebrating or mocking it (for example, in cases where the target is not identifiable, or the picture is of a fictional character). 

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The Board recommends that Meta changes its policy to address this gap. It has earlier recommended Meta to include exceptions for allowing content that condemns or raises awareness of gender-based violence in the hate speech policy. 

In May 2021, a Facebook user in Iraq posted a photo with a caption in Arabic. The photo shows a woman with visible marks of a physical attack, including bruises on her face and body. 

The post implies that because of a misunderstanding caused by a typographical error in a letter the woman had written, the husband physically beat her. The caption then states that the woman got what she deserved as a result of the mistake. There are several laughing and smiling emojis throughout the post.

The woman in the photograph is an activist from Syria whose image has been shared on social media in the past. The caption does not name her, but her face is clearly visible. The post also includes a hashtag used in conversations in Syria supporting women.

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The Board finds that the post violates Meta’s policy on Bullying and Harassment as it mocks the serious physical injury of the woman depicted. As such, it should be removed.

“However, this post would not have violated Meta’s rules on Bullying and Harassment if the woman depicted was not identifiable, or if the same caption had accompanied a picture of a fictional character. This indicates to the Board that there is a gap in existing policies that seems to allow content that normalizes gender-based violence.” 

In a recent statement about two posts focusing on problems with gender based violence, the Board said that 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. 

The Board recommends Meta to establish a policy aimed at addressing content that normalizes gender-based violence through praise, justification, celebration or mocking of gender-based violence. 

In the previous case about removing posts drawing attention to gender based violence, 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.

The Board recommended Meta to include exceptions 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. 

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