The independent Oversight Board on Tuesday overturned Mark Zuckerberg-run Meta’s decision to take down a documentary posted by Voice of America (VOA) Urdu, revealing the identities of child victims of sexual abuse and murder from Pakistan in the 1990s.

In a statement, the Oversight Board, an independent body of 22 global human rights and freedom of expression experts from across the political spectrum and the world, said that although it found the post did violate the Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Nudity Community Standard, “the majority finds that a newsworthiness allowance should have been applied in this case”.

The Board overturned Meta’s decision to take down the content and required the post to be restored.

“Broadly factual in nature and sensitive to the victims, VOA Urdu’s documentary could have informed public debate on the widespread issue of child sexual abuse, which is underreported in Pakistan,” the Board ruled.

The Board also expressed alarm at the length of time (18 months) it took for Meta to finally decide on this content, by which time it had been viewed 21.8 million times, and questions whether Meta’s resources for Urdu-language videos are sufficient.

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In January 2022, VOA Urdu posted on its Facebook page an 11-minute documentary about Javed Iqbal, who murdered and sexually abused approximately 100 children in Pakistan in the 1990s.

The documentary, in Urdu, includes disturbing details of the crimes and the perpetrator’s trial.

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This post was viewed about 21.8 million times and shared about 18,000 times.

“Between January 2022 and July 2023, 67 users reported the post. Following both automated and human reviews, Meta concluded the content was not violating. The post was also flagged separately by Meta’s High-Risk Early Review Operations system because of its high likelihood of going viral,” the Board said.

Following escalation internally, Meta’s policy team overturned the original decision to keep the post and removed it for violating the Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Nudity policy.

The majority of the Board found that Meta should have applied the newsworthiness allowance to this content, keeping the post on Facebook.

Experts consulted by the Board confirmed that child sexual abuse is prevalent in Pakistan, but “incidents are underreported”.