Facebook apologizes for threatening to delete UN Watch director's account

Facebook apologized for removing a post by the UN Watch director criticizing Ben & Jerry's for not condemning the Taliban.

 Hillel Neuer addresses the ‘We Have a Dream Summit’ in 2011. (photo credit: UN Watch)
Hillel Neuer addresses the ‘We Have a Dream Summit’ in 2011.
(photo credit: UN Watch)

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, apologized on Tuesday after restricting and threatening to remove the Facebook account of Hillel Neuer, the executive director of the NGO UN Watch.

According to UN Watch, Facebook deleted a post by Neuer which showed a photo of Taliban gunmen with the caption "Prediction: Ben and Jerry’s will never announce a boycott of the Taliban." A warning from Facebook said the post went against "Community Standards on dangerous individuals and organizations," adding that a few more violations would lead Facebook to delete his account permanently.

Facebook additionally reduced the distribution of Neuer's page and implemented other restrictions on the page due to what it called "continued Community Standards violations."

In a letter to Meta's chief legal officer in December, UN Watch stated that Facebook was threatening to remove Neuer's account on "entirely baseless grounds." The NGO stressed that the post was meant to condemn the human rights abuses committed by the Taliban and to criticize Ben & Jerry's for turning a blind eye to gross human rights abuses worldwide while targeting Israel.

The same post was published on the UN Watch Facebook page without being flagged.

"We can only speculate that bad faith actors orchestrated certain actions that caused Facebook to strike the post from Mr. Neuer’s page—leading to your shocking and baseless threat to remove his account," wrote UN Watch in the letter. "Facebook’s decision to strike the post is alarming because it suggests that the Facebook employees charged with enforcing Facebook’s Community Standards either did not read or understand the post, or are not qualified to apply Facebook’s Community Standards."

On Tuesday, Meta apologized for the removal of the post and the restrictions placed on Neuer's page, saying that the situation had been remedied.

"This post was removed in error and has now been restored," said Meta in a statement shared by UN Watch. "We have also removed the restrictions on this Page, and have apologized to Hillel Neuer for the inconvenience caused.”

Despite the apology, a post on the UN Watch's official Facebook page has remained flagged as violating Community Standards on hate speech, even after UN Watch challenged it.

The post in question was a screenshot of a tweet by Neuer showing a Reuters story entitled "UAE becomes first Arab country to reach Mars." Alongside the story, Neuer tweeted "Let us hope that one day the Arabs in Gaza will also be educated to launch rockets to Mars and not at people.”

UN Watch stated that Facebook provided no explanation for the strike, saying "it is not clear at all why Facebook decided that this post violated its Community Standards on hate speech."

The NGO noted that "Facebook’s Community Standards on hate speech have been widely criticized for being vague and overbroad and failing to provide sufficient guidance both to users and to the Facebook employees charged with enforcing them."

UN Watch added that the company's community standards on hate speech still fail to conform to international standards on human rights and free speech.