The board, which is funded by Meta but operates independently, said in a statement that the phrase is often used to mean “down with Khamenei” when referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has led a violent crackdown on nationwide protests in recent months.
It also urged the company to develop better ways to include such context in its content policies and clearly state when rhetorical threats against heads of state were allowed.
“In the context of the post and the wider social, political and linguistic situation in Iran, ‘marg bar Khamenei’ should be understood as ‘down with.’ It is a rhetorical, political slogan, not a credible threat,” the board wrote.
Iran has been gripped by demonstrations since mid-September following the death in detention of a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman who was arrested for wearing “inappropriate clothing” under the country’s strict dress code for women.
The protests, in which demonstrators from all walks of life have called for the fall of Iran’s ruling theocracy, have posed one of the biggest challenges to the government of the Shia Muslim-ruled Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
The turmoil created a now-familiar conundrum for Meta, which has repeatedly faltered in its handling of violent political rhetoric on its platforms.
The company bans language that incites “serious violence” but wants to avoid overreach by limiting enforcement to credible threats, creating ambiguity about when and how the rule will apply.
For example, after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Meta introduced a temporary exemption to allow calls for the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin, aiming to give users in the region room to express their anger over the war.
However, days later, the waiver was reversed after Reuters reported its existence.
Meta has also come under scrutiny on how its platforms were used to organize in the run-up to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Phrases like “kill them all” appeared in thousands of US-based Facebook groups before the attack, including calls for violence against specific US political leaders.
The Oversight Board said in its ruling that the “death to Khamenei” statements differed from threats posted around January 6, as politicians were then “clearly at risk” in the US context and “death to” was not a rhetorical statement in English.