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Today, the Oversight Board selected a case, which was referred by Meta, about Meta’s decision to leave up a post on the Facebook page of a medical organization in Sri Lanka. The post states that people could donate pharmaceutical drugs and other medical goods to the country, and provides a link for them to do so. At the time it was posted, Sri Lanka was in the midst of a financial crisis, limiting its ability to import pharmaceutical drugs. There were reports of local hospitals running out of medical supplies, including drugs.
Meta usually takes down content that “attempts to donate or gift pharmaceutical drugs” for violating our policy on Restricted Goods and Services, as laid out in the Facebook Community Standards.
However, in this instance, Meta made an exception to leave up the content. These exceptions are used when strict application produces results that are inconsistent with a policy’s objectives. In this case, the exception was both temporary and limited to the Sri Lankan situation. Meta usually takes down this type of content for safety reasons, however, due to the context surrounding this case, doing so could lead to preventable deaths due to a lack of medical drugs.
Meta referred this case to the board because we found it significant and difficult as it creates tension between our values of safety and voice.
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.
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.
In its response, Meta has committed to implementing one recommendation fully, two in part, and one will have no further action. Please see below for further details.
To provide more clarity to users, Meta should explain in the landing page of the Community Standards, in the same way the company does with the newsworthiness allowance, that allowances to the Community Standards may be made when their rationale, and Meta's values, demand a different outcome than a strict reading of the rules. The company should include a link to a Transparency Center page which provides information about the "spirit of the policy" allowance. The Board will consider this recommendation implemented when an explanation is added to the Community Standards.
Our commitment: As shared publicly and with the board, we occasionally issue allowances for content that may violate the exact letter of our policies but, upon careful consultation and consideration of important context, does not violate the “spirit” of that policy. We will add a new page to the Transparency Center explaining our approach to these spirit of the policy allowances, and link the page in the introduction to our Community Standards
Considerations: As the board describes, our Community Standards outline the values that inform the policies applied across our platforms – including a commitment to free expression. Each policy in the Community Standards is also introduced with an introductory framing of the intent of each policy area known as a policy rationale. Spirit of the policy allowances are occasionally issued in instances where a given scenario is addressed by the policy rationale (the “spirit” of the policy) and stated aim of the Community Standards, but are not explicitly accommodated in the language of the policy itself. These allowances can apply in a variety of our policy areas from Restricted Goods and Services to Violent and Graphic Content.
Spirit of the policy allowances are used in exceptional circumstances, such as this case, which focused on a call for donation of pharmaceutical drugs in Sri Lanka. Given the potential for harm, the Restricted Goods and Services policy typically does not allow attempts to donate or gift pharmaceutical drugs at scale on our platforms. However, due to a crisis situation in Sri Lanka that limited access to crucial pharmaceutical drugs, we issued a scaled spirit of the policy allowance to allow the facilitation of donations of potentially life-saving pharmaceutical drugs in Sri Lanka for a set period in time.
We are committed to updating the Community Standards to include an explanation of the circumstances that require spirit of the policy allowances and expect to provide this update by the end of this year. We will provide an update on our progress in a future Quarterly Update.
To provide more certainty to users, Meta should communicate when reported content benefits from a "spirit of the policy" allowance. In line with Meta's recent work to audit its user notification systems as stated in its response to the Board's recommendation in the "Colombia protests" case (2021-010-FB-UA), Meta should notify all users who reported content which was assessed as violating but left on the platform because a "spirit of the policy" allowance was applied to the post. The notice should include a link to a Transparency Center page which provides information about the "spirit of the policy" allowance. The Board will consider this recommendation implemented when Meta introduces the notification protocol described in this recommendation.
Our commitment: While we will commit to additional transparency around our approach to our approach to spirit of the policy allowances, we do not plan to develop separate user notifications for this purpose because there is no one size fits all approach to spirit of the policy allowances and developing user notification messaging anytime one is made could lead to inconsistencies, confusion, and inaccuracies.
Considerations: As explained in our response to recommendation #1, spirit of the policy allowances occur in uncommon circumstances when we identify that a policy's values call for a different outcome than the strict policy language laid out in the Community Standards. These decisions may occur due to circumstances outside of what the policy language dictates, such as additional context provided on escalation or crisis situations. Because they are so context-specific and varied, developing user notifications that are applicable across all circumstances in which these rare allowances are granted would be infeasible at scale. Moreover, these calls are issued in line with the policy rationale and informed by the values outlined in the Community Standards. Therefore, if content is initially assessed as violating and further determined to not be violating based on the “spirit of the policy,” this content is considered to be non-violating and is captured by existing user notifications.
In line with the Board's recommendations five and six in the "Iran protest slogan" case (2022-013-FB-UA), the Board specifies that Meta should publish information about the "spirit of the policy" allowance in its Transparency Center, similar to the information it has published on the newsworthiness allowance. In the Transparency Center, Meta should: (i) explain that "spirit of the policy" allowances can be either scaled or narrow; (ii) publicize examples of content which benefited from this allowance; (iii) provide criteria Meta uses to determine when to scale "spirit of the policy" allowances; and (iv) include a list of all "spirit of the policy" allowances Meta has issued at scale in the past three years with explanations of why Meta decided to issue and terminate each of them. Meta should keep this list updated as new allowances are issued. The Board will consider this recommendation implemented when Meta makes this information publicly available in the Transparency Center.
Our commitment: We will add new information to our Transparency Center about how we make spirit of the policy decisions. For both feasibility and safety reasons, we cannot commit to providing a list of all spirit of the policy allowances from the last three years, but our Transparency Center updates will describe both “scaled” and “narrow” applications and include examples of this type of decision.
Considerations: As part of the creation of a Transparency Center page in line with recommendation #1, we will include key examples that provide greater insight into the types of spirit of the policy calls that might be made. We will also expand upon our commitments from recommendation #6 in the Cartoon Depicting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei case to explain that, as with newsworthy allowances, spirit of the policy allowances may be either “scaled” or “narrow”. In our response to that recommendation, we explained that “narrow” allowances apply to a single piece of content, while "scaled" allowances apply more broadly – often to a widely used phrase, sentiment, or (as in this particular case) call for aid.
There are a number of considerations and inputs that may inform a spirit of the policy allowance and, given they often occur in times of crisis or pertain to individuals, sharing full details about all such allowances issued over the last three years may raise privacy concerns given the sensitivity of the information. With that said, we hope that providing more examples and details about the spirit of the policy calls in the new Transparency Center page will offer insight into the use case and application of these types of decisions.
We expect to publish the new page by the end of this year and will provide an update on the status of this work in the next Quarterly Update.
In line with the Board's recommendations five and six in the "Iran protest slogan" case (2022-013-FB-UA), the Board specifies that Meta should publicly share aggregated data in its Transparency Center about the "spirit of the policy" allowances issued, including the number of instances in which they were issued, and the regions and/or languages affected. Meta should keep this information updated as new "spirit of the policy" allowances are issued. The Board will consider this recommendation implemented when Meta makes this information publicly available in the Transparency Center.
Our commitment: In line with our response to recommendation #5 from the Cartoon Depicting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei case, we will provide further information about the total number of scaled allowances issued;; but are not currently able to provide information about the regions or languages impacted due to safety and capacity considerations.
Considerations: We will publish the total number of scaled allowances in order to provide the public with a sense of the scale of this type of decision relative to the thousands made across our platforms every day. We cannot share data about regions or languages involved in these allowances because doing so could potentially require us to share sensitive user information, and requires significant operational lift at a time when any surplus capacity is required for necessary safety functions. We want to ensure that all data we share publicly is fully accurate, and at this time, the operational lift for validating more granular data (including a regional and language breakdown) would divert capacity from high-priority data transparency efforts, including those required for regulatory readiness and other Oversight Board compliance.
We expect to publish data on the total number of scaled allowances by the end of this year and will provide an update on the status of this work in the next Quarterly Update.