Meta asked to end blanket ban of word 'shaheed'

By
Wasif Shakil
|
Meta and Facebook logos are seen in this illustration taken February 15, 2022. — Reuters
Meta and Facebook logos are seen in this illustration taken February 15, 2022. — Reuters

  • Meta's policy regarding term "shaheed" termed counterproductive.
  • “Shaheed” accounts for more content removals than any other word. 
  • Nighat Dad says it will be a huge incentive for journalists.


The Oversight Board of Meta — the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — has advised the social media giant to lift the ban on the use of the word 'shaheed', an Arabic word which translates to 'martyr' in English, as it will make a “huge difference” in media coverage of such events.

In its opinion released on Tuesday, the board said that Meta’s approach to moderating the said word is "overbroad, and disproportionately restricts freedom of expression and civic discourse".

The company had sought an opinion from its board regarding its content moderation policy as it interprets all uses of “shaheed” referring to individuals it has designated as “dangerous” as violating and removes the content.

In February 2023, Meta asked its board whether it should continue to remove content using the Arabic term to refer to individuals designated under its Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy.

The US-based company has come under immense criticism from the rights bodies over its policies especially after the Gaza conflict. The rights activists have blamed it for silencing the pro-Palestinian voices and suppressing free speech.

According to Meta, it is likely that 'shaheed' accounts for more content removals under its guidelines than any other single word or phrase on its platforms.

The advisory panel stated that its research was about to conclude when in October 2023 Hamas attacked Israel and in response, Israel launched a full-scale military operation in Gaza which worsened the situation in the Middle East.

It said that in light of new developments, the publication of this policy advisory opinion was paused to ensure its recommendations were responsive to the use of Meta’s platforms and the word 'shaheed' in this context.

"This additional research confirmed the Board’s recommendations to Meta on moderating the word 'shaheed' held up, even under the extreme stress of such events, and would ensure greater respect for all human rights in Meta’s response to crises," the board noted.

It further stated that the company’s approach also failed to consider the various meanings of the word many of which are not intended to glorify or convey approval, and lead all too often to Arabic speakers and speakers (many of them Muslim) of other languages having posts removed, without that removal serving the purposes of the Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy.

The Meta Oversight Board, which operates independently, stated that the word “shaheed” is sometimes used by extremists to praise or glorify people who have died while committing violent terrorist acts but Meta’s response to this threat must also be guided by respect for all human rights, including freedom of expression.

The board recommended the social media firm end its blanket ban on the use of the term to refer to individuals designated as dangerous, and modify its policy for a more contextually informed analysis of content including the word.

Nighat Dad, an Oversight Board member, said the move will be beneficial for the media and the coverage of such events.

Speaking to Geo.tv, she said that the recommendations that the board has given will be a huge incentive for journalists and reporters who cover dangerous individuals and organisations like the Taliban or Hamas because anytime anyone uses the word 'shaheed' with an individual, Meta takes severe action and strike.

“So, from the perspective of journalism and media, I think it will make a huge difference.”