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8 Jul 2024

The New Arab

Meta ends ban on the word 'shaheed' amid censorship concerns

"Meta ends ban on 'shaheed', but what does the Arabic word actually mean?", 8 July 2024

Meta Platforms, which manages Facebook, said... it would finally lift its blanket ban on the Arabic word shaheed ("martyr") after a year-long review by its oversight board found the social media giant's approach was "overbroad".

The company, which runs Facebook and Instagram, has been criticised for years over its handling of content involving the Middle East. A 2021 study, which Meta itself commissioned, found its approach had an "adverse human rights impact" on Palestinians and other Arabic-speaking users of its services.

The oversight board, which is funded by Meta but operates independently, started its review last year because the word, shaheed, accounted for more content removals on its platforms than any other.


Gaza's 'martyrs'

The word "shaheed" has been regularly used to refer to Palestinians who were killed by Israeli attacks, both civilians and fighters.

The word is often invoked in media reports, political speeches, and social media posts to honour those who have died and to highlight their role in the Palestinian resistance.

During Israel's wars on Gaza, the word became a powerful symbol of resistance and defiance by framing Palestinian deaths within the struggle for freedom and justice.

In Israel's current war on the enclave, Palestinians who died were referred to as "shaheeds" in local and regional media not only to honour those killed but also to galvanise public sentiment.

Meta's review of 'shaheed'

Meta's review in March found that its rules on the use of the word "shaheed" had failed to account for the word's variety of meanings and resulted in the removal of content not aimed at praising violent actions.

Meta acknowledged the findings of the review... and said its tests showed that removing content when "shaheed" was "paired with otherwise violating content ​​captures the most potentially harmful content without disproportionally impacting the voice".

Israeli pundits described the decision as "antisemetic" over its regular use in referring to Palestinians killed by Israel. The decision to overturn the ban comes almost nine-months into the war on Gaza, which has now cost over 38,000 Palestinian lives.

The oversight board welcomed the change, saying Meta's policy related to the word had led to the censoring of millions of people across its platforms.