Meta oversight board allows death threats against Iranian leader to stay on Facebook

The oversight board, which is funded by Meta but independently operated, argued that within the context of the "broader social, political and linguistic situation" in Iran, "death to" is the equivalent of saying "down with."

A Facebook post directed towards Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying "death to Khamenei," has been given the okay by Meta's oversight board.

The move is a reversal of an earlier decision by Meta to remove the post, citing the company's rule barring violent threats. 

The oversight board, which is funded by Meta but independently operated, argued that within the context of the "broader social, political and linguistic situation" in Iran, "death to" is the equivalent to saying "down with," and therefore did not violate any of the social media site's rules, according to a write up of the decision.

The post is a direct translation of "marg bar Khamenei," a commonly used slogan in the context of the criticism of the political regime. The board determined that the post was therefore not a threat to the Ayatollah’s safety.

In a comparison to the censorship surrounding the January 6 riots in Washinton D.C., the board argued that "death to" posts made during that time was not acceptable, as statements like this are generally not used as political rhetoric in English, and that in this case "politicians were clearly at risk."
The board's write-up states that Meta should do more to respect freedom of expression and permit the use of rhetorical threats, particularly in the context of Iran's ongoing protests. They argue that in this case, the company's failure to do so ultimately silenced political speech aimed at protecting women's rights.

A spokesperson for Meta said the company was reviewing the Oversight Board’s recommendations and that they would publish a response within 60 days, according to Bloomberg.

Iran has been taken over by widespread protests since September 2022 following the arrest of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, whom the government's morality police claimed was inappropriately dressed. Amini died three days later in police custody.

The government's response has been to block access to a number of online services, including Instagram and WhatsApp. Other sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram have already been banned in the Islamic Republic since 2009, although many Iranians use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to get around these restrictions.

The board argues that social media platforms are a necessary means for citizens living under oppressive governments to express themselves.

Meta, as well as other social media platforms such as Twitter, have struggled for a long time to find a way to handle moderation challenges on their platforms, including political rhetoric, hate speech, and violent threats, often facing accusations of political bias.

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