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Meta oversight board pushes corporation to drop restriction on Arabic term 'shaheed'

People walk past a Meta Platforms logo at a conference in Mumbai, India, September 20, 2023.

NEW YORK, March 26 (mod1s) - Meta's (META.O), opens new tab oversight board on Tuesday called on the company to end its blanket ban on a common usage of the Arabic word "shaheed," or "martyr" in English, after a year-long review found the Facebook owner's approach was "overbroad" and had unnecessarily suppressed the speech of millions of users.

The board, which is sponsored by Meta but functions independently, said the social media giant should delete messages using the term "shaheed" only when they are related to obvious indicators of violence or if they separately infringe other Meta regulations.

The verdict comes after years of criticism of the company's treatment of information regarding the Middle East, including in a 2021 study Meta itself commissioned that concluded its strategy had a "adverse human rights impact" on Palestinians and other Arabic-speaking users of its services.

Those critiques have grown since the commencement of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in October. Rights organizations have accused Meta of blocking information supportive of Palestinians on Facebook and Instagram amid the background of a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people in Gaza after Hamas' murderous incursions into Israel on Oct 7.

The Meta Oversight Board reached similar findings in its report on Tuesday, stating Meta's guidelines on "shaheed" failed to account for the word's multiplicity of connotations and resulted in the removal of material not intended at applauding violent activities.

"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," Oversight Board co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt said in a statement.

Meta presently eliminates any postings using "shaheed" in reference to anyone it classifies on its list of "dangerous organizations and individuals," which includes members of Islamist militant groups, drug cartels and white supremacist organizations.

The corporation argues the phrase indicates appreciation for such organizations, which it forbids, according to the board's report.

Hamas is among the organizations the business identifies as a "dangerous organization."

Meta requested the board's views on the matter last year, after commencing an evaluation of the policy in 2020 but failing to establish agreement internally, the board said. It disclosed in its request that "shaheed" accounted for more material deletions on its platforms on than any other single term or phrase.

A Meta representative said in a statement that the business will consider the board's findings and reply within 60 days.


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