Meta’s Oversight Board announces new case related to Armenian prisoners of war

Today, Meta’s Oversight Board announced a new case for consideration and is inviting people and organizations to submit public comments.

the Board prioritizes cases that have the potential to affect lots of users around the world, are of critical importance to public discourse, or raise important questions about Meta’s policies.

The case is related to Armenian prisoner of war video:

In October 2022, a Facebook user posted a video on a page which appears to be concerned with alleged war crimes committed by Azerbaijan during the recently reignited Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In the caption, which is in English and Turkish, the user says that the video depicts Azerbaijani soldiers torturing Armenian prisoners of war. The video begins with a warning that it is only suitable for people over the age of 18. The warning has been added by the user who made the video, rather than Meta. The English text reads “Stop Azerbaijani terror. The world must stop the aggressors.” The video shows people who appear to be Azerbaijani soldiers searching through rubble. The video has been edited so that their faces cannot be seen. They find people in the rubble who are described in the caption as Armenian soldiers. Some appear to be injured, others appear dead. They pull one solider from the rubble, who cries out in pain. His face is visible and he appears injured. An unseen person, potentially the person filming, shouts in Russian at an apparently injured soldier sitting on the ground, telling him to stand up. He attempts to do so. The content has been viewed fewer than 100 times, has received fewer than 10 reactions, and has not been shared or reported by anyone.

Meta’s Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime Community Standard prohibits “content that reveals the identity or location of a prisoner of war in the context of an armed conflict,” including by sharing imagery. According to the publicly available change log, which records changes Meta has made to its Community Standards, the company introduced this rule on 4 May 2022. Meta says that the content would ordinarily have been removed under that policy, as it shows the faces of the soldiers. However, it left the content on the platform under its newsworthiness allowance. Meta said “that the public interest in seeing the content outweighed the risk to the safety and dignity of the prisoners of war.” Meta applied a warning screen to the content, marking it as “disturbing,” under its Violent and Graphic Content Community Standard. The video was added to a Media Matching Service bank, which automatically identifies matching content and places a warning screen over it.

Meta referred the case to the Board, stating that it is difficult as it involves balancing the benefits of raising awareness of violence against prisoners of war against the potential harm caused by revealing their identity. Meta asked the Board to consider whether Meta’s decision to allow the content represents an appropriate balancing of its values of “Safety,” “Dignity,” and “Voice,” and whether it is consistent with international human rights principles.

The Board selected this case to explore Meta’s policies and practices in moderating content that depicts prisoners of war. This case falls within the Board’s “crisis and conflict situations” strategic priority.

The user was invited to explain the context of the content with the Board, after it selected the case. They did not reply by the given deadline.

The Board would appreciate public comments that address:

  • How social media platforms should moderate content depicting prisoners of war, including content that may originally have been created for the purpose of propaganda, which is now being shared with additional context to raise awareness of abuses.
  • The potential public interest value, and potential harms, of allowing content depicting prisoners of war on social media platforms.
  • How international humanitarian law (also known as the law of armed conflict) should inform Meta’s human rights responsibilities when moderating content depicting prisoners of war.
  • How Meta could mitigate the risks of harm caused by either allowing or removing content depicting prisoners of war.
  • How Meta should approach preserving content depicting potential war crimes.
  • Insights into the socio-political context regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in particular regarding the treatment of prisoners of war.

In its decisions, the Board can issue policy recommendations to Meta. While recommendations are not binding, Meta must respond to them within 60 days. As such, the Board welcomes public comments proposing recommendations that are relevant to these cases. Public comments can be submitted here.

Over the next few weeks, Board members will be deliberating this case. Once they have reached their final decision, we will post it on the Oversight Board website.

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