EFF welcomes the latest and long-awaited policy advisory opinion from Meta’s Oversight Board calling on the company to end its blanket ban on the use of the Arabic-language term “shaheed” when referring to individuals listed under Meta’s policy on dangerous organizations and individuals and calls on Meta to fully implement the Board’s recommendations.

Since the Meta Oversight Board was created in 2020 as an appellate body designed to review select contested content moderation decisions made by Meta, we’ve watched with interest as the Board has considered a diverse set of cases and issued expert opinions aimed at reshaping Meta’s policies. While our views on the Board's efficacy in creating long-term policy change have been mixed, we have been happy to see the Board issue policy recommendations that seek to maximize free expression on Meta properties.

The policy advisory opinion, issued Tuesday, addresses posts referring to individuals as 'shaheed' an Arabic term that closely (though not exactly) translates to 'martyr,' when those same individuals have previously been designated by Meta as 'dangerous' under its dangerous organizations and individuals policy. The Board found that Meta’s approach to moderating content that contains the term to refer to individuals who are designated by the company’s policy on “dangerous organizations and individuals”—a policy that covers both government-proscribed organizations and others selected by the company— substantially and disproportionately restricts free expression.

The Oversight Board first issued a call for comment in early 2023, and in April of last year, EFF partnered with the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) to submit comment for the Board’s consideration. In our joint comment, we wrote:

The automated removal of words such as ‘shaheed’ fail to meet the criteria for restricting users’ right to freedom of expression. They not only lack necessity and proportionality and operate on shaky legal grounds (if at all), but they also fail to ensure access to remedy and violate Arabic-speaking users’ right to non-discrimination.

In addition to finding that Meta’s current approach to moderating such content restricts free expression, the Board noted thate importance of any restrictions on freedom of expression that seek to prevent violence must be necessary and proportionate, “given that undue removal of content may be ineffective and even counterproductive.”

We couldn’t agree more. We have long been concerned about the impact of corporate policies and government regulations designed to limit violent extremist content on human rights and evidentiary content, as well as journalism and art. We have worked directly with companies and with multi stakeholder initiatives such as the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, Tech Against Terrorism, and the Christchurch Call to ensure that freedom of expression remains a core part of policymaking.

In its policy recommendation, the Board acknowledges the importance of Meta’s ability to take action to ensure its platforms are not used to incite violence or recruit people to engage in violence, and that the term “shaheed” is sometimes used by extremists “to praise or glorify people who have died while committing violent terrorist acts.” However, the Board also emphasizes that Meta’s response to such threats must be guided by respect for all human rights, including freedom of expression. Notably, the Board’s opinion echoes our previous demands for policy changes, as well as those of the Stop Silencing Palestine campaign initiated by nineteen digital and human rights organizations, including EFF.

We call on Meta to implement the Board’s recommendations and ensure that future policies and practices respect freedom of expression.