Meta’s oversight board has overturned a decision by Instagram to remove a clip of drill music that was originally taken down at the request of the Metropolitan Police.
The Oversight Board, which is able to make binding decisions on content moderation cases on Facebook and Instagram, said the case raised concerns about Meta’s relationship with law enforcement agencies globally.
The case related to a number of posts featuring clips of the music video for the track “Secrets Not Safe” by Chinx (OS), which Meta said the Met had requested be taken down over concerns it could lead to “retaliatory violence” in relation to London gangs.
But the Board has said removing these posts was a mistake, finding that the posts did not breach Instagram community guidelines and that Meta did not have sufficient evidence to warrant its removal of the content.
In its ruling, the Board said it had found there was a lack of transparency and adequate safeguards around Meta’s relationship with law enforcement and how this creates the potential for the firm to exacerbate abusive or discriminatory practices.
The Board said it had found that all of the Met’s requests to social media and streaming firms from June 2021 to May 2021 to review music content involved drill music, which is particularly popular among young black British people.
It said this intensive focus on one music genre raised concerns about the potential over-policing of certain communities.
The ruling also said Meta’s current content decision systems do not include enough access to remedy, noting that all law enforcement content removal requests are automatically classed as “at escalation”, a level which does not currently allow users to appeal to the Oversight Board.
It called on Meta to create a new global system for receiving content removal requests from state actors, including making the process more public and transparent, and one which requires more evidence on how an online policy has been violated.
“While law enforcement can sometimes provide context and expertise, not every piece of content that law enforcement would prefer to have taken down should be taken down,” the Board said.
“It is therefore critical that Meta evaluates these requests independently, particularly when they relate to artistic expression from individuals in minority or marginalised groups for whom the risk of cultural bias against their content is acute.”
As part of its investigation, the Board filed a number of freedom of information requests with the Met, finding that the police service had filed 286 requests to review or remove music content, with 255 of those requests leading to content being removed.
Thomas Hughes, director of the Oversight Board administration said: “The Board’s decision upholds the free expression rights of users on Meta’s platforms and recommends Meta bring greater diligence and transparency to how it responds to content moderation requests from government entities.
“It is important that Meta evaluates requests for content removal from state actors objectively.
“This means ensuring reports are accompanied with sufficient information on how a particular policy has been violated. We remain acutely focused on better understanding how governments use Meta’s platforms and will closely monitor and report on Meta’s implementation of our recommendations in this area.”
In response, a Meta spokesperson said: “We do not remove content simply because law enforcement requests it – we take action if content is found to violate our policies or local law.
“As part of our robust review process, we assess whether a request is consistent with internationally-recognised standards on human rights, including due process, privacy, free expression, and the rule of law.”