Facebook Oversight Board overturns move to purge post on Sikhs in India

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The independent content Oversight Board on Thursday said it has overturned Facebook’s original decision to remove a post about the Sikh community in India under the social network’s rules on dangerous individuals and organizations.

After the Board identified this case for review, Facebook restored the content.

The Board expressed concerns that Facebook did not review the user’s appeal against its original decision, urging the social network “to take action to avoid mistakes which silence the voices of religious minorities”.

In November 2020, a user shared a video post from Punjabi-language online media company Global Punjab TV.

This featured a 17-minute interview with Professor Manjit Singh who is described as “a social activist and supporter of the Punjabi culture.”

The post also included a caption mentioning Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In text accompanying the post, the user claimed the RSS was threatening to kill Sikhs, a minority religious group in India, and to repeat the “deadly saga” of 1984 riots.

“After being reported by one user, a human reviewer determined that the post violated Facebook’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Community Standard and removed it,” the Board said in a statement.

This triggered an automatic restriction on the user’s account. Facebook told the user that they could not review their appeal of the removal because of a temporary reduction in review capacity due to COVID-19.

“After the Board identified this case for review, but prior to it being assigned to a panel, Facebook realized that the content was removed in error and restored it”.

Facebook noted that none of the groups or individuals mentioned in the content are designated as “dangerous” under its rules.

The company also could not identify the specific words in the post which led to it being removed in error.

The Board found that Facebook’s original decision to remove the post was not consistent with the company’s Community Standards or its human rights responsibilities.

While recognizing the unique circumstances of COVID-19, the Board argued that Facebook did not give adequate time or attention to reviewing this content.

It stressed that users should be able to appeal cases to Facebook before they come to the Board and urged the company to prioritize restoring this capacity.

“Considering the above, the Board found the account restrictions that excluded the user from Facebook particularly disproportionate. It also expressed concerns that Facebook’s rules on such restrictions are spread across many locations and not all found in the Community Standards, as one would expect,” the statement read.

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