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Meta to review moderation of Arabic word ‘shaheed’

The word, which translates as “martyr,” drives more content takedowns on the company’s platforms than any other word.

Meta’s oversight board says it will review the moderation of the Arabic word “shaheed,” which means “martyr” in English, because it is 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 board, said on Thursday that this was “a complex moderation issue” that “affects how millions of people express themselves online.”

Hughes said the high rate of content takedowns raised questions about “whether Muslim and Arabic-speaking communities are subject to over-enforcement of their content because of Meta’s enforcement practices.”

“Shaheed” has multiple meanings in Arabic, including that of “witnessing” an event, and is often used to refer to people who have died in sacrifice for a sacred cause.

The meta-policy prohibits praising, supporting or representing entities or people identified as 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 its board of trustees for guidance on whether it should treat “shaheed” as praise and continue to remove posts that use the term to refer to individuals it considers dangerous. be considered or should use a different approach, the board of trustees said.

Moderating the word could impact news coverage in Arabic-speaking countries, the board noted, calling for public comment to aid in its deliberations.

The board of trustees was established in late 2020 to review Facebook and Instagram’s decisions on whether to remove or keep certain content and to make rulings on whether or not to enforce the social media company’s actions.

The company has been criticized for failing to monitor abusive content in countries where such statements are likely to cause the most harm, but the board’s latest case suggests that over-policing could also be a problem.

Digital rights of Palestinians

In September, a report by an independent consultancy commissioned by Meta found that over-enforcement resulted in significantly disproportionate impacts on the digital rights of Palestinians and Arabic-speaking users.

The report found that Meta’s practices violated the Palestinians’ right to freedom of expression and assembly, political participation and non-discrimination.

Twitter, controlled by Elon Musk, is also under fire for censoring Palestinian public figures.

The bureau chief of Jerusalem-based Al-Quds, one of the most widely read Palestinian dailies, in Washington, was suspended.

Asked if he thought his suspension from Twitter was related to his outspokenness about Palestine, Said Arikat told Al Jazeera: “I believe so. I can’t think of any other reason.”

One of the reasons given by the platform was the violation of community standards, and some accounts were said to have been suspended accidentally or due to technical glitches. Some critics believe unspoken reasons are a general increase in hate speech and incitement against Arabs, including Palestinians.