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Oversight Board overturns Facebook censorship of criticism of Colombian president

Another decision overturned.
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Facebook’s Oversight Board has overruled a decision to remove a video of protesters criticizing Colombia’s President Ivan Duque.

In the video, protesters are heard using a phrase designated as a slur under Facebook’s community standards on so-called “hate speech.”

In May, a regional news outlet shared a video from another page of the protests, without adding a caption. The video showed protesters marching holding a banner that said “SOS COLOMBIA.”

The protesters were also singing chants critical of the government, the president, and the proposed tax reform. They called the president “hijo de puta” (son of a bitch) and said “deja de hacerte el marica en la tv” (stop being the fag on tv). There was text praising the protesters towards the end of the video.

The main reason Facebook removed the video was the use of the word “marica,” which is used to insult gay men. The use of the word supposedly violated the platform’s Hate Speech Community Standards, which prohibits content that “describes or negatively targets people with slurs” on the basis of protected characteristics, like sexual orientation.

The board argued that Facebook should have “applied the newsworthiness allowance” and allowed the post. The newsworthiness allowance, according to the board, requires “Facebook to assess the public interest of allowing certain expression against the risk of harm from allowing violating content.” Facebook also uses the newsworthiness allowance after considering “the nature of the speech as well as country-specific context, such as the political structure of the country and whether it has a free press.”

The board noted that the video was posted at a time where there were widespread protests in the country and at a significant point in the country’s political history. Additionally, while the protesters used the slur deliberately, it was only used once and as part of numerous other phrases focused on criticizing the president.

Further, according to the board, Colombia is a country where there are not many outlets for political expression, making social media the most convenient platform for people to share information about the protests.

The Board ordered the post to be restored. It also offered the following recommendations:

  • Publish illustrative examples from the list of slurs designated as violating under its Hate Speech Community Standard, including borderline cases with words which may be harmful in some contexts but not others.
  • Link the short explanation of the newsworthiness allowance provided in the introduction to the Community Standards to the more detailed explanation in Facebook’s Transparency Center of how this policy applies. The company should supplement this explanation with illustrative examples from a range of contexts, including reporting on large scale protests.
  • Develop and publicize clear criteria for content reviewers for escalating for additional review public interest content that potentially violates the Community Standards but may be eligible for the newsworthiness allowance. These criteria should cover content depicting large protests on political issues.
  • Notify all users who reported content which was assessed as violating but left on the platform for public interest reasons that the newsworthiness allowance was applied to the post.
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