Facebook is often criticized for censoring political speech and infringing on its users’ freedom of expression. However, that topic becomes vastly more complicated when the speech in question is calling for violence against a repressive government. The latest example of this dilemma occurred this week when Facebook’s own independent Oversight Board said that the company was wrong to remove posts calling for the death of Iranian leader Ali Khamenei.
Millions of Iranian citizens relied on Facebook to communicate amid protests against the government last year until access to social media was restricted. That’s why the Oversight Board says that speech threatening the government must be allowed as it counts as dissent.
“In the Iranian context, the board finds that Meta must do more to respect freedom of expression, and permit the use of rhetorical threats,” the Oversight Board wrote in its ruling. “The Iranian government systematically represses freedom of expression and digital spaces have become a key forum for dissent. In such situations, it is vital that Meta supports users’ voices… As this case shows, its failure to do so led to the silencing of political speech aimed at protecting women’s rights.”
Though there’s no guarantee Facebook will abide by this ruling, it’s always encouraging when the Oversight Board forces the company to do more to protect users.
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