The word, which translates to “martyr,” is responsible for more content removals on the company’s platforms than any other word.
Meta’s oversight board says it will review moderation of the Arabic word “shaheed,” which means “martyr” in English, because it’s responsible for more content removals on the company’s platforms than any other single word or phrase.
Thomas Hughes, director of administration for the oversight body, said Thursday it was “a complex moderation issue” that “impacts how millions of people express themselves online”.
According to Hughes, the high rate of content takedowns raises questions about “whether Muslim and Arabic-speaking communities face over-enforcement of their content as a result of Meta’s enforcement practices.”
“Shaheed” has multiple meanings in Arabic, including “witness” to an event, and is often used to refer to people who died as sacrifices for a sacred cause.
The meta-politics prohibits praising, supporting or representing any entity or person deemed dangerous or placed on “terrorism” lists, including a number of Palestinian groups opposed to Israel’s decades-long occupation.
Meta, whose services include Facebook and Instagram, has asked the board for advice on whether it should treat “Shaheed” as praise and continue to remove posts that use the term to refer to people deemed dangerous, or take a different approach should use, so the panel called it.
Moderating the word could affect coverage in Arabic-speaking countries, the board noted, calling for public comment in support of its deliberations.
The oversight body was set up in late 2020 to review Facebook and Instagram’s decisions to remove or keep certain content and make decisions on whether to maintain or repeal the social media company’s actions.
The company has been criticized for monitoring abusive content in countries where such speech is likely to do the most damage, but the board’s recent case suggests over-monitoring could also be an issue.
Palestinian digital rights
In September, a report prepared by Meta on behalf of an independent consultancy found that over-enforcement has resulted in materially disproportionate consequences for the digital rights of Palestinians and Arabic-speaking users.
The report found that Meta’s practices violated Palestinians’ rights to freedom of expression and association, political participation and non-discrimination.
Twitter, controlled by Elon Musk, has also come under fire for censoring Palestinian public figures.
The account of the Washington bureau chief of Jerusalem-based Al-Quds, one of the most widely read Palestinian daily newspapers, has been blocked.
When asked if he believed his suspension from Twitter was related to speaking openly about Palestine, Said Arikat told Al Jazeera, “I believe that’s true. I can’t think of any other reason.”
The reasons given by the platform included the violation of community standards, and some accounts are said to have been blocked accidentally or due to technical problems. Some critics believe unspoken reasons include a generalized increase in hate speech and incitement against Arabs, including Palestinians.