Mistreatment of Armenian Prisoners of War Video


AUG 11, 2023


Today, the Oversight Board selected a case referred by Meta regarding a video on a Facebook page that shows men in military uniform, apparently Armenian soldiers, being beaten and mocked by another group of men wearing different military uniforms. The post includes a caption claiming that the perpetrators are Azerbaijani soldiers. While this could not be verified, the speech and imagery in the video make it likely that it depicts Azerbaijani soldiers mistreating Armenian prisoners of war.

Meta determined that the content violated our Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime policy, as laid out in the Facebook Community Standards, but decided that the newsworthiness allowance applies and left the content up with a warning label.

Meta referred this case to the board because we found it significant and difficult as it creates tension between our values of safety, voice and dignity.

Meta generally prohibits content that identifies prisoners of war. However, we know that there can be a compelling public interest in allowing people to share content of prisoners in degrading conditions to bring attention to potential violations of international humanitarian law. In this instance, we determined the content is part of a body of important evidence that has allowed human rights groups and independent investigators to document events. Since we decided that our Violent and Graphic Content policy also applied, we applied a warning label to this content.

We will implement the board’s decision once it has finished deliberating, and we will update this post accordingly. Please see the board’s website for the decision when they issue it.

Case decision

We welcome the Oversight Board’s decision today on this case. The board upheld Meta's decision to leave the content up so we will take no further action related to this case or the content.

After conducting a review of the recommendations provided by the board in addition to their decision, we will update this post.


Recommendation 1 (implementing in part)

In line with recommendation no. 14 in the "former President Trump's suspension" case, Meta should commit to preserving, and where appropriate, sharing with competent authorities evidence of atrocity crimes or grave human rights violations, such as those specified in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, by updating its internal policies to make clear the protocols that it has in place in this regard. The protocol should be attentive to conflict situations. It should explain the criteria, process and safeguards for (1) initiating and terminating preservation including data retention periods, (2) accepting requests for preservation, (3) and for sharing data with competent authorities, including international accountability mechanisms and courts. There must be safeguards for users' rights to due process and privacy in line with international standards and applicable data protection laws. Civil society, academia and other experts in the field should be part of developing this protocol. The Board will consider this recommendation implemented when Meta shares its updated internal documents with the Board.

Our commitment: We commit to defining and implementing a consistent approach for retaining potential evidence of atrocity crimes and serious violations of international human rights law that takes into consideration specific requests from international accountability mechanisms and courts. At the time of writing, we are in the final stages of developing our approach, and are committed to providing a confidential update to the board in the future.

Considerations: Meta has worked since 2019 to explore rights-respecting initiatives for evidence preservation and disclosure, including with civil society, academia, and international prosecutorial experts and bodies. We have also funded a number of related activities. At the same time, we have made extensive disclosures to the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), a United Nations Human Rights Council mechanism for preserving and analyzing evidence of international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar.

As outlined in our Privacy Policy, Meta retains content for certain periods of time following its removal from our services for violations of our community standards. These periods provide time for appeal and may, in any many cases, provide sufficient opportunity for investigators and prosecutors to seek disclosure of these records. Informed by our engagements with civil society and relevant stakeholders, we are finalizing an approach that provides for the possibility of retaining content for a longer period of time when it relates to atrocity crimes or grave human rights violations, whilst balancing our privacy commitments and legal obligations.

We acknowledge the significant interest in additional avenues for potential disclosure of retained data, in addition to the procedures we outline in our publicly available Privacy Policy addressing how we respond to government requests for user data. There are myriad legal, regulatory, and privacy challenges when considering such additional avenues. We will continue to engage with expert stakeholders on this issue.

We plan to provide the Oversight Board with a confidential briefing with additional details on our approach. Notwithstanding ongoing legal and privacy sensitivities we will continue to consider opportunities for sharing additional public updates as described in our response to Recommendation #4.

Recommendation 2 (assessing feasibility)

To ensure consistent enforcement, Meta should update the Internal Implementation Standards to provide more specific guidance on applying the newsworthiness allowance to content that identifies or reveals the location of Prisoners of War, consistent with the factors outlined in Section 8 of this decision, to guide both the escalation and assessment of this content for newsworthiness. The Board will consider this recommendation implemented when Meta incorporates this revision and shares the updated guidance with the Board.

Our commitment: We will consider potential opportunities to clarify the guidance on our newsworthy allowance to more clearly explain how to approach content that may identify or reveal the location of Prisoners of War.

Considerations: Under our Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime section in the Community Standards, we note that content that reveals the identity or location of a prisoner of war (POW) in the context of an armed conflict by sharing their name, identification number and/or imagery requires additional context to enforce. As a result of previous Oversight Board recommendations, such as A Cartoon Depicting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei #6, we share details about our approach to newsworthy content in our Transparency Center. This approach is informed by human rights principles, and includes balancing considerations of public interest value with the potential for harm.

We will consider including more specific guidance for content that shares information about prisoners of war in our internal guidance. When content is escalated, in addition to considering context specific policies, we also may consider the public interest value of content. This means that when any content is escalated, we will consider it against all of our policy areas and potential allowances, including newsworthy allowances. Our current balancing test does consider a number of factors that ultimately seek a proportionate approach considering both safety and dignity of individuals depicted; however, we will work towards refining guidance that clarifies how this applies to POWs. We will provide updates in future Quarterly Update.

Recommendation 3 (implementing fully)

To provide greater clarity to users, Meta should add to its explanation of the newsworthiness allowance in the Transparency Center an example of content that revealed the identity or location of Prisoners of War but was left up due to the public interest. The Board will consider this recommendation implemented when Meta updates its newsworthiness page with an example addressing Prisoners of War.

Our commitment: We will update our Approach to Newsworthy Content Transparency Center page to include an example of content that revealed the identity or locations of prisoners of war but that we kept on the platform due to its public interest value.

Considerations: We are aligned with the board that an additional example to our newsworthy page will help provide further clarity to our approach to content that may have a high public interest value. In the examples currently shared in our Newsworthy page, we share instances of content that violated the letter of our policies, but were weighed against our newsworthy balancing test and determined to have public interest value that outweighed the potential for harm. These examples help illustrate how this allowance is considered against our Nudity, Violent and Graphic Content, and Hate Speech policies. Including a public example of how the newsworthy allowance may be applied in relation to the Coordinating Harm and Promoting Crime policy on our Transparency Center will provide greater clarity and explanation to how our newsworthy allowance might be applied.

Recommendation 4 (assessing feasibility - long term)

Following the development of the protocol on evidence preservation related to atrocity crimes and grave human rights violations, Meta should publicly share this protocol in the Transparency Centre. This should include the criteria for initiating and terminating preservation, data retention periods, as well as the process and safeguards for accepting requests for preservation and for sharing data with competent authorities, including international accountability mechanisms and courts. There must be safeguards for users' rights to due process and privacy in line with international standards and applicable data protection laws. The Board will consider this recommendation implemented when Meta publicly shares this protocol.

Our commitment: Within the bounds of our security and legal considerations, we will look for opportunities to share information with the Oversight Board and the public regarding our approach to human rights evidence retention as it is finalized.

Considerations: As noted in our response to Recommendation #1, there are significant legal, privacy, and policy considerations inherent to our work in this area. We plan to provide the Oversight Board with a confidential briefing on our approach, in order to share specifics about the criteria and guardrails that will shape our protocol. We will continue to assess how we may be able to make additional information on our approach public over time.