Case on depiction of Zwarte Piet


JUN 12, 2023

On January 29, 2021, the Oversight Board selected a case appealed by someone on Facebook regarding a video of a child interacting with three adults—one of whom is dressed to portray Sinterklaas and two of whom are dressed to portray Zwarte Piet. The child shakes hands and a hat is placed on his head by one of the adults portraying Zwarte Piet. Festive music is playing and the accompanying text in the post, written in Dutch, states the child is happy.

Meta took down this content for violating our policy on hate speech, as laid out in the Facebook Community Standards. We do not allow hate speech on Facebook that makes “designated dehumanizing comparisons, generalizations, or behavioral statements (in written or visual form) that includes caricatures of Black people in the form of blackface.”

Case decision

On April 13, 2021, the board upheld Meta's decision on this case, so we have taken no further action related to this case or the content.


Update June 24, 2021: Following up on one of the Oversight Board’s non-binding recommendations in this case, today we are adding the following language to our Community Standards Hate Speech Policy Rationale:

“We define hate speech as a direct attack against people — rather than concepts or institutions — on the basis of what we call protected characteristics: race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity and serious disease. We define attacks as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing, and calls for exclusion or segregation. We also prohibit the use of harmful stereotypes, which we define as dehumanizing comparisons that have historically been used to attack, intimidate, or exclude specific groups, and that are often linked with offline violence.”

Blackface was popular in the United States at the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the 1900s. Its purpose was to dehumanize Black people. Specifically, this included non-Black people darkening their skin and exaggerating facial features while demeaning Black people as “lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, prone to thievery and cowardice.”

Unfortunately, this tactic has persisted throughout history and continues today, not just in America but in other parts of the world as well. This can lead to exclusionary practices in our societies and can also lead to offline harm such as hate crimes and excessive force. Facebook works to ensure that hateful and demeaning words and imagery are not on its platform and to educate people when they attempt to put it there.

The board issued their binding decision for this case last month upholding our initial decision in this case. At that time the board also issued two non-binding recommendations, which we are responding to in the table below.

On May 13, 2021, Meta responded to the board's recommendation for this case.

Recommendation 1 ( committed to action )

Meta should link the rule in the Hate Speech Community Standard prohibiting blackface to the company’s reasoning for the rule, including harms it seeks to prevent.

Our commitment: We will add language to the Policy Rationale section of the Hate Speech Community Standard explaining why we remove harmful stereotypes like blackface.

Considerations: The Policy Rationale sections in the Community Standards contain the overall reasoning for our policies as well as specific guidance for each policy. We also provide additional details about our policy development process and the rationale behind our policies in the minutes of our Policy Forum. We do this so people can easily understand the reasons behind our policies as well as the specifics of what is and is not allowed. We want our policies to be consistent, and we do not often publish rationales for each specific policy line in our Community Standards. However, that is under consideration. At the board’s request, we’ll add the reasons supporting our prohibition of blackface to the Policy Rationale section of the Hate Speech Community Standard.

When a content reviewer reviews a post and determines it violates a policy, they often provide some additional data to our systems about the type of violation, but not always to the granularity of each line in the policy. Additionally, when we build technology to take automated action, it is often at the level of a policy area (for example, Hate Speech) as it is not technologically feasible to create separate AI systems for each individual line in the policy. We understand the benefit in additional detail and will continue to explore how best to provide additional transparency.

Next steps: We will add language described above to the Policy Rationale section of the Hate Speech Community Standard.

Recommendation 2 ( committed to action )

In line with the board’s recommendation in the case about Armenians in Azerbaijan, the board said that Meta should “ensure that users are always notified of the reasons for any enforcement of the Community Standards against them, including the specific rule Meta is enforcing.” In this case any notice to users should specify the rule on blackface, and also link to the above-mentioned resources that explain the harm this rule seeks to prevent. The board asked Meta to provide a detailed update on its “feasibility assessment” of the prior recommendations on this topic, including the specific nature of any technical limitations and how these can be overcome.

Our commitment: In four decisions (Armenians in Azerbaijan, Breast Cancer Symptoms and Nudity, Nazi Quote, and this case), the board has recommended that Meta communicate the specific rule within the Community Standard it is enforcing against. We are consolidating these recommendations into one workstream.

We’ve made some progress on our hate speech notifications by using an additional classifier that is able to predict what kind of hate speech is contained in the content — violence, dehumanization, mocking hate crimes, visual comparison, inferiority, contempt, cursing, exclusion and/or slurs. People using Facebook in English now receive messaging specific to the type of hate speech contained in their content, so if a person’s content is removed because it contains blackface, they will receive a notification that the content was removed for being dehumanizing. We’ll continue to explore more granularity and expand these notifications for hate speech to other languages in the future. We will also roll this out to Instagram users in the coming months.

Considerations: Over the past several years, we’ve worked to increase transparency in our messaging to people when we’ve removed their content. For example, we updated our notifications to tell people which Community Standard prompted us to take the post down, such as Hate Speech, Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity, etc. When a content reviewer determines a post violates a policy, they often provide some additional information about the type of violation, but not always to the granularity of each line in the policy. Additionally, when we build technology to take action against violating content automatically, it is often at the level of a policy area (for example, Hate Speech) as it is difficult to build sufficiently accurate systems for each individual line in a policy.

Next steps: We’ll work to expand this notification for hate speech to other languages in the future, and we’ll expand it to Instagram in the coming months. We’ll also continue to explore how best to provide transparency to people about the action we take against content that violates our policies.