Facebook Oversight Board to Determine Whether “From River to Sea” Is Hate Speech

Facebook Oversight Board to Determine Whether “From River to Sea” Is Hate Speech

The independent Oversight Board that hears appeals of content decisions at Facebook and Instagram said Tuesday it will review whether the pro-Palestinian phrase “from the river to the sea” violates the platforms’ rules, including banning them. hate speech.

The Oversight Board, which functions similar to a court, said in a statement that it had agreed to hear three cases regarding expression used in Facebook comments or posts. The three cases all date from November, following the Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel on October 7 and the start of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

In each of the three cases, other Facebook users reported the phrase, saying it violated the platform’s rules on hate speech, incitement or violent organizations. In one case, 937 users reported the phrase 951 times. In a second case, four users reported it seven times, and in a third case, one user reported the phrase, the council said.

And in each of the three cases, Facebook has not removed this sentence. Automated systems initially processed the complaints, and when the complaints reached human moderators, they ruled that the phrase did not violate the platform’s rules, according to the board. Users opposed to this sentence then appealed to the Supervisory Board.

“The Council selected these cases to consider how Meta should moderate the use of the phrase given the resurgence of its use after October 7, 2023 and the controversies around the meaning of the phrase,” said the council in a statement on its website. Meta is the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.

The Oversight Board said it would accept public comment on the matter over the next two weeks before deliberating and issuing a decision that would likely be binding on Facebook and Instagram.

The phrase is often included in pro-Palestinian slogans and chants, including during protests across the country, and it has long been a subject of controversy. It generally refers to the geographic area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – the central region of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and the deeper meaning of the phrase is hotly debated.

Some interpret this phrase as a general call for Palestinian nationalism, while others, including Hamas, use it to call for a Palestinian state across the entire region, meaning that Israel would not exist in as an independent state.

The Oversight Board summarized the divergent views thus: “On the one hand, the phrase has been used to defend the dignity and human rights of Palestinians. On the other hand, it could have anti-Semitic implications, as users who submitted the cases to the Council claim.

Among those who have used the phrase is Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, the only Palestinian-American in Congress. In November, members of the House of Representatives voted 234 to 188 to censure her, saying she had called for the destruction of the State of Israel. She said the censure resolution distorted her views and said the phrase “is an ambitious call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction or hatred.”

One of the Facebook posts reviewed by the Oversight Board was viewed about 8 million times, the board said. That post contained “what appears to be a generated image of fruit floating on the sea that forms the words of the phrase, as well as ‘Palestine will be free,'” according to the forum.

Human moderators reviewed user reports and rejected them, and Meta management stood by those decisions, the board said.

“After this review, Meta has determined that, without additional context, it cannot conclude that “From the River to the Sea” constitutes a call for violence or a call for the exclusion of a particular group, nor that it is exclusively linked to support for Hamas. “, wrote the board of directors, summarizing the position of Meta management.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg began talking about creating an appeals board in 2018, saying social media companies needed external oversight over their content moderation decision-making.

In one of its most significant decisions, the Oversight Board upheld former President Donald Trump’s 2021 suspension from Meta’s platforms, but ruled it was inappropriate to make the ban indefinite. Last year, Meta reinstated Trump’s accounts.

The council currently has 22 members, including a former prime minister of Denmark, free speech advocates and law professors from around the world, according to its website.