09/25/2021

Instagram Accidentally Removes Post Over Policy Misunderstanding

Instagram inadvertently removed a post criticising solitary confinement due to a misunderstanding of its policy, a new Facebook Oversight Board decision revealed.

The decision has now been overturned by the Oversight Board.

The post was about the confinement of Abdullah Ocalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Facebook designates as a dangerous entity, that users cannot support on its platforms. The post was removed in January, when moderators applied that policy to the post, which criticised Ocalan’s solitary confinement in a Turkish prison. 

The Facebook company initially removed the post for violating Instagram’s Community Guidelines on dangerous individuals and organisations, which state that Instagram does not support content that praises terrorism, organized crime or hate groups. 

What caused the removal?

After the user appealed to the Oversight Board, Facebook re-reviewed the content on April 23, 2021 and determined it had removed it in error. The post was later reinstated. 

Facebook said it “found that a piece of internal guidance on the Dangerous Individuals and Organisations policy was ‘inadvertently not transferred’ to a new review system in 2018.” 

The guidelines were developed in 2017 in response to concerns about Ocalan’s incarceration, and were meant to enable discussions on the conditions of incarcerated individuals.

However, the internal guidance was not made public to Facebook or Instagram users — and Facebook only realized it had dropped out of the moderation guidelines altogether when the user appealed.

What did the Oversight Board say?

The board is concerned that Facebook has not implemented a domestic policy exception for three years and that this could lead to many posts being incorrectly removed,” the Oversight Board’s decision said.

Facebook told the Board that it is not possible to know how much content was removed when this policy guide was not available to reviewers. 

The Board also said that if the user had not taken up the removal of the post for review, the guidance would have remained unknown to content moderators, and a significant amount of expression in the public interest would have been removed.

“The Board believes that Facebook’s mistake may have led to many other posts being wrongly removed and that Facebook’s transparency reporting is not sufficient to assess whether this type of error reflects a systemic problem,” the Board added.

The Board also said that the content should never have been removed in any case, even without the missing instruction from the guidelines. The user did not advocate violence in their post nor did they express support for PKK members of ideologies. Instead, the main concern was highlighting human rights concerns about Ocalan‘s long-term solitary confinement, which has also been raised by international organisations.

Recommendations

The Oversight Board called for more transparency, recommending the policy should clearly state what is not included in “Support.” It said that Facebook should include in its community standards how users can clearly state the purpose of their post to Facebook. Consumers should be free to discuss alleged misuse or abuse of human rights by members of designated organisations.

The Oversight Board said Facebook should include more comprehensive information in its transparency reporting on error rates for enforcing laws on “definition” and “support” of dangerous individuals and organisations, depending on the region and language.

It also said to publish the results of the ongoing review process to determine if any other policies are missing, including details of all missing policies.

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