Oversight body: Facebook can’t block ‘Death to Khamenei’ slogan

The Persian slogan “Tod dem…” is not a direct threat of violence, says the Facebook Oversight Board. The context needs to be taken into account more.

Facebook’s independent oversight board, the Oversight Board, has ruled that posts with the Persian slogan “Death to Khamenei” (“مرگ بر خامنه”) do not violate community rules. The Facebook entry decisive for the decision should not have been blocked even if no informational value had been ascribed to it. What is important is the context and also an understanding of the larger social, political and linguistic situation in Iran. It is a political slogan that must be understood as “down with…” and not as a credible threat to the religious leader of the Islamic Republic.

The decision that has now been announced corrects the handling of the slogan on Facebook, and the Meta subsidiary Instagram had already been criticized in this regard. There, posts were deleted in which slogans such as “Death to…” was spread, coined for example to the “dictator” – the religious leader Ali Khamenei -, the President Ebrahim Raisi, or the paramilitary militia Basij. Unlike, for example, when dealing with quite drastic criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin after the start of the war of aggression against Ukraine, Meta viewed this as a prohibited threat of violence. The blocking of such entries has helped the regime in Tehran at least indirectly, but it has been criticized.

As the Oversight Board now explains on the basis of the case under consideration from July last year, “Tod dem…” in Persian stands for “down with…”. In recent years, it has been used repeatedly in Khamenei-related protests, in this case ahead of Iran’s “National Hijab Day.” First, the entry was blocked and the account responsible was restricted, but then Meta partially reversed the decision. Although the text violated the guidelines against violence and incitement, it was newsworthy, it was initially said. That’s why he’s already been released. The supervisory board now contradicts this and explains that this news value was not necessary for the release.

There are no general rules for such slogans, the context is always important. For example, a possible slogan “Death to Salman Rushdie” would have to be evaluated differently. The same applies to “death for…” in the direction of politicians during the storming of the Capitol in Washington DC There was obviously a risk for them and, moreover, such statements are not common in the English language.

The committee also demands that Meta give greater consideration to the central role of language and context in its guidelines for moderators. Regarding Iran, the right to freedom of expression should be more respected, and rhetorical threats allowed. It is of central importance that the users have a voice there. In the country, people have been protesting against the regime at great risk for months. On Facebook, for example, you had to prepare for the upcoming holiday – which is often used for protests. Finally, the Oversight Board criticizes that appeals against decisions are automatically closed.

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