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Meta Oversight Board Urges End to 'Shaheed' and 'Martyr' Ban Amid Israeli War on Gaza

Wesam Abo Marq Wesam Abo Marq
28th March 2024
Meta Oversight Board Urges End to 'Shaheed' and 'Martyr' Ban Amid Israeli War on Gaza
Meta's oversight board asked to lift ban on the terms shaheed and martyr (Getty)

Meta's independent oversight board has urged the company to lift its widespread ban on the Arabic term "shaheed," or "martyr" in English. Following a comprehensive year-long assessment, the board deemed Meta's previous stance as overly restrictive, resulting in the unwarranted silencing of millions of users. 

Meta's Oversight Board Asks to Lift Ban on the Terms “Shaheed” and “Martyr”

The board, financially supported by Meta yet functioning independently, proposed that the social media giant only remove posts featuring the term "shaheed" when they are associated with explicit indicators of violence or when they violate other established Meta guidelines.

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A screenshot of the Oversight Board’s statement.

The board's decision follows years of review over Meta's management of content concerning the Middle East. This includes a 2021 Meta-commissioned study revealing a detrimental impact on the human rights of Palestinians and other Arabic-speaking users. Criticisms intensified during the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza since October 7, with rights groups alleging Meta's suppression of pro-Palestinian content on Facebook and Instagram amid a war resulting in tens of thousands of casualties in Gaza.

In its report released on Tuesday, the Meta Oversight Board echoed similar findings, stating that Meta's policies regarding the term "shaheed" lacked consideration for its diverse meanings. This oversight led to the removal of content unrelated to praising violent acts.

Oversight Board co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt said in a statement, "Meta has been operating under the assumption that censorship can and will improve safety, but the evidence suggests that censorship can marginalize whole populations while not improving safety at all."

Meta Associates Term 'Shaheed' with 'Dangerous Organization'

Meta currently removes posts containing the term "shaheed" when referring to individuals designated by the company as members of "dangerous organizations and individuals," which includes various groups like Islamist militant organizations, drug cartels, and white supremacist groups. 

According to the oversight board's report, Meta considers the use of "shaheed" as praise for these banned groups. Notably, the Palestinian Resistance faction, Hamas, is one of the groups designated by Meta as a "dangerous organization."

Meta to Respond to the Board’s Feedback Within 60 Days

Last year, Meta requested input from the board on this matter, following an internal reassessment of the policy initiated in 2020 that did not result in internal consensus, as per the board's statement. The board revealed that "shaheed" accounted for more content removals on Meta's platforms than any other single word or phrase.

A spokesperson for Meta stated that the company will review the board's feedback and provide a response within 60 days.

Meta Suppresses Palestinian Voices on Its Platforms Amid Israel War on Gaza

Between October and November 2023, Human Rights Watch recorded over 1,050 instances of Instagram and Facebook content takedowns and suppression, mainly by Palestinians and their supporters, discussing human rights abuses. 

Human Rights Watch actively sought reports of online censorship regarding Israel and Palestine. Of the cases reviewed, 1,049 involved peaceful pro-Palestine content being censored or suppressed, while only one case involved pro-Israel content removal. The documented cases spanned over 60 countries, primarily in English, expressing diverse forms of peaceful support for Palestine. 

Moreover, even after Human Rights Watch's analysis, numerous reports of censorship continued, indicating a total case count exceeding 1,050.

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