The Meta Oversight Board, the Supreme Court-like authority for content moderation for Facebook and Instagram announced Thursday that it had overridden a decision by the company. Facebook had allowed a video to remain visible, in which the authoritarian Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen asked political opponents to choose between “the legal system” and “a bat”. Now, the oversight board says Meta should go a step further and immediately ban Hun Sen’s Facebook and Instagram pages for six months because the breach is so serious and he has long used social media to escalate threats of violence against political opponents .
“This decision goes far beyond Prime Minister Hun Sen,” a spokesman for the oversight body told Gizmodo. “It’s about Meta’s policies and processes to ensure their platforms are not being exploited by political leaders threatening violence. We look forward to Meta’s response to our recommendations.” Meta initially did not comment on the panel’s decision.
In a main compartment 26-page verdict Today, the oversight board told Gizmodo that Hun Sen made statements in the video Meta’s community standard for violence and hate speech. Hun Sen’s speech contained “blatant” statements aimed at inciting violence that could have resulted in serious injury or death to the leader’s political opponents, the board noted. They said the leader’s long history of violence and repression made these threats all the more credible. In the past, Hun Sen related to his political opponents as “dogs” worthy of being beaten and caged. Incredibly, in the same video, Hun Sen actually attempted to deflate his own statement by telling his audience that what he said was not incitement to violence. The Oversight Board, in its ruling, dismissed the leader’s reckless attempt at real-time gas lighting.
“In the Committee’s view, Hun Sen’s superficial assurance that ‘we do not incite or encourage people to use violence’ contradicts the clear message of the speech and lacks credibility,” the ruling said. “The Board is concerned and confused that the initial reviewers reached a different conclusion, but notes that during the review, Meta’s country experts acknowledged that the post violated the standard on violence and incitement.”
in one opinion On Thursday, Meta said it welcomed the board’s decision and intends to implement it once deliberations are complete. The company says it will also begin a broader review of “identical content with parallel context.” However, Meta was less forceful when it came to the board’s recommendation that Hun Sen”s accounts be suspended. To that end, Meta said: “In addition to its decision, conduct a review of any recommendations made by the board.”
What are the details of Hun Sen’s video and the Meta Oversight Board’s decision?
The case centers around a 41-minute video recorded in January in which Hun Sen threatened legal action against political opponents who accuse his party of stealing votes in the upcoming election. Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 38 years and has done so accused by human rights organizations for brutal violence, massive corruption and rigged elections. In his speech, the prime minister explicitly threatened his opposition.
“Either you face legal action in court or I step in [the Cambodian] “People from the People’s Party called for a demonstration and beat you up,” Hun Sen said during the speech.
The video was uploaded to Hun Sen’s Facebook page and was viewed around 600,000 times. The Oversight Board notes that three different users reported the video between January 9 and January 26, 2023. Moderators initially withheld the video on the grounds that it was “newsworthy”.
Meta told the oversight panel that it initially chose to maintain the video because threats to use the legal system against opponents are not in themselves against the company’s policies, as they do not involve a physical threat of violence. The oversight body dismissed that argument, saying Hun Sen’s sweeping authoritarian control over the country’s courts meant that threats to prosecute opponents through the legal system “stated a threat of violence.”
The oversight board also stated that Meta’s decision to apply a news value premium in this case was unjustified as the harm caused by posting the content outweighed the benefit to the public interest. Meta uses this newsworthiness allowance in many contexts to sustain posts that would normally violate its terms, but that Meta believes are important to the public. That exception often applied to former President Trump’s inflammatory, policy-damaging posts.
The ruling acknowledged the need for careful consideration when deciding when to limit political leaders’ freedom of speech, but noted that Hun Sen’s massive reach on social media allowed his threats to spread like wildfire , allowing Meta’s platform to be exploited for real-world damage.
“Rather than spurring debate, applying the newsworthiness allowance in this case would further dilute public discourse in favor of Hun Sen’s dominance in the media landscape,” the board noted. “Such behavior should not be rewarded.”
The oversight board asks Meta to suspend Hun Sen’s account
In addition to its decision, the oversight board recommended Meta immediately suspend Hun Sen’s Facebook and Instagram accounts for six months to give the company time to review the situation and set a permanent suspension period. Before lifting a suspension, the oversight board said Meta should conduct an assessment to determine if the “risk to public safety has decreased.”
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s remarkably similar to guidance provided by the Oversight Board Meta on how to handle former President Donald Trump’s account. In this case, Trump’s account had already been suspended for almost two years finally comes online again at the beginning of the year. Contrary to the ruling, the Oversight Board’s recommendations to Meta are non-binding. However, the company is required to respond to the recommendation within 60 days.
“Where regimes that have a history of carrying out threats of violence against their opposition use Meta’s platforms, the company must rely on its regional teams and expertise to assess whether threats to use the justice system against political opponents are a threat or intimidation amounting to violence.” ” the oversight panel said in its decision.
Cambodia’s verdict could have far-reaching implications for how Meta moderates political leaders’ dangerous speeches
The Oversight Board decides on only a handful of cases each year although a new appeal is received every 24 seconds. Any of the four billion total users of Facebook or Instagram can appeal a content moderation decision and request that it move up the appeal ladder. The oversight board has endeavored to process urgent cases quickly, but the sheer size of Meta’s user base means the Supreme Court will hear only a small fraction of cases at a time. For that reason, the Oversight Board says it selects cases carefully and, much like the U.S. Supreme Court, selects borderline cases where a decision, one way or another, could set a precedent and provide guidance for many other similar cases.
In this case, the oversight panel said it focused on the Cambodian PM’s video because it “provided an opportunity to investigate whether political leaders are using Meta’s platforms to foment violence and eliminate political opposition.” Oversight committees wrote that they ultimately made their decision by analyzing Meta’s content policies, values and human rights.
“It is vitally important that Meta’s platforms are not misused as a tool to amplify threats of violence and retaliation aimed at suppressing political opposition, particularly during an election, as in this case,” the board said.
Update 8:42 AM EST: Added statement from Meta.