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Facebook's definition of terrorism 'overly broad', warns UN

Facebook's definition of terrorism 'overly broad', warns UN
By Alice Tidey
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Facebook's definition may lead to governments suppressing opposition from legitimate groups, a UN human rights expert warned.


Facebook's definition of terrorism is "overly broad" and may lead to governments suppressing opposition from legitimate groups, a UN human rights expert warned.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Fionnuala Ni Aolain wrote that Facebook's "sweeping definition is particularly worrying in light of a number of governments seeking to stigmatize diverse forms of dissent and opposition — whether peaceful or violent — as terrorism."

Facebook bans terrorist groups from using its services and defines such entities as any non-governmental organisation that engages in violence in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological aim.

To find and remove terrorist content from its platform, Facebook uses detection technology as well as a team of moderators assisted by a 200-strong counter-terrorism team.

Facebook's lack of clarity

“The use of overly broad and imprecise definitions as the basis for regulating access to and the use of Facebook’s platform may lead to discriminatory implementation, over-censoring and arbitrary denial of access to and use of Facebook’s services,” Ní Aoláin wrote in her letter.

“The definition is further at odds with international humanitarian law as it qualifies all non-state armed groups party to a non-international armed conflict as terrorists, even if these groups comply with international humanitarian law,” she added.

Facebook definitions could for instance ban organisations fighting for democracy and human rights in authoritarian regimes.

The Special Rapporteur also raised concerns over Facebook's lack of clarity regarding how it determines whether a person belongs to a particular group as well as whether a user can appeal Facebook's decision to ban them.

She called on the platform and its peers — who she recognises are increasingly engaged in forms of regulation traditionally ascribed to States — to adopt the definition of terrorism formulated by her predecessor.

"I commend the important role Facebook plays in offsetting terrorist activity online," she said.

"At the same time, I would like to underscore the importance that such activity is carried out in conformity with Facebook's responsibility to not unduly interfere with the human rights of its users."

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