Facebook oversight board to consider whether anti-Israel rallying cry is ‘hate speech’

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Facebook’s independent oversight board is considering whether to designate the phrase “from the river to the sea” as hate speech Wednesday.

The phrase has long been a rallying cry for anti-Israel agitators and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. The phrase calls for a Palestinian state that extends from the banks of the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, borders which by necessity would destroy the state of Israel, which is located in that space.

Facebook’s oversight board announced plans to take up the case on Wednesday, citing three instances of users reporting the phrase as supporting terrorism. In all three of those instances, Meta chose to take no action.

“Meta informed the Board that it analyzed the content under three policies – Violence and Incitement, Hate Speech and Dangerous Organizations and Individuals – and found the posts did not violate any of these policies,” the board wrote. 

“Meta explained the company is aware that ‘From the river to the sea’ has a long history and that it had reviewed use of the phrase on its platform after October 7, 2023. After that review, Meta determined that, without additional context, it cannot conclude that ‘From the river to the sea’ constitutes a call to violence or a call for exclusion of any particular group, nor that it is linked exclusively to support for Hamas,” it continued.

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The board is now seeking public comment on the cases, saying it is open to arguments that Meta’s decision to take no action was incorrect.

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“The Board selected these cases to consider how Meta should moderate the use of the phrase given the resurgence in its use after October 7, 2023, and controversies around the phrase’s meaning. On the one hand, the phrase has been used to advocate for the dignity and human rights of Palestinians. On the other hand, it could have antisemitic implications, as claimed by the users who submitted the cases to the Board,” the board wrote.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg

The board notes that any finding it makes regarding the phrase would not be binding for Facebook. It says it can only offer the platform recommendations for its moderation policies.

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The public comment window lasts for 14 days, ending May 21.

The phrase has become ubiquitous at anti-Israel protests taking place across the U.S. The U.S. House of Representatives condemned “from the river to the sea” as antisemitic in a bipartisan vote last month, despite its use by fringe Democrats.

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