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Facebook’s parent company Meta has been called out over the muting of an Arabic word on its platforms. 

An oversight board has made a recommendation to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Threads, and Instagram to loosen their blanket restrictions on the Arabic word “shaheed”. Meta had enacted a blanket ban on the word, reviewing it in 2020, and removing it from the posts of people on the platform that were deemed dangerous. In a statement, the “blunt method” was regarded as  “overbroad and disproportionately restricts freedom of expression and civic discourse,” wrote Oversight Board member Helle Thorning-Schmidt, saying it ignored the complexities of the word and settled for one definition meaning “martyr”.

The group’s findings declared the ban unnecessary given the company’s established policies that can already address any danger posed by terrorist organizations and individuals on the platform when used properly. The board finalized their decision to make the recommendation after the beginning of the Israel-Hamas conflict on October 7, 2023, which currently has seen 32,000 Palestinians killed according to the Gaza Health Ministry after members of Hamas invaded an area of southern Gaza and killed or taken hostage 1,400 people. They had extended research on “shaheed” but still agreed on the recommendation.

“The term is used in many circumstances, but the vast majority of those referred to as Shaheed are civilians,” said Nadim Nashif, the executive director of The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media. Thorning-Schmidt agreed, stating that the restriction stops legitimate usage of the word in reporting on discussions of terrorism and violence. “It can even lead to those speaking about deceased loved ones having their content taken down in error,” he said.

Jewish advocacy groups have come out against any potential change, claiming that softening the restrictions would enable more antisemitism on the platforms. “These calls to terror and violence will be normalized and, more importantly, more people will be exposed to them, possibly leading to additional violence at a time there is already a lot of violence and targeted antisemitic attacks,” said Tal-Or Cohen Montemayor, the founder of CyberWell, an Israeli nonprofit group that tracks antisemitism online. Montemayor said that it flagged over 300 usages of “shaheed” in antisemitic posts on Facebook since October 7.

“We want people to be able to use our platforms to share their views, and we have a set of policies to help them do so safely,” Meta said in a statement. They also said that they would review the feedback they’ve collected and make a decision in 60 days.