Meta’s Oversight Board on Wednesday upheld the social media company’s decision to restore an Instagram video showing a group of men sexually assaulting an Adivasi woman. To support its decision, the board cited larger public interest and the need to raise awareness about discrimination against Dalits and Adivasis in India, especially women.

The video of the assault was posted by an Instagram account that described itself as a platform for Dalit perspectives, the board said in its judgement. After a user reported the video, Meta removed it under its Adult Sexual Exploitation policy that prohibits content that “depicts, threatens or promotes sexual violence, sexual assault or sexual exploitation”.

A Meta employee then, through internal reporting, flagged the removal of the video after which the company’s internal teams reviewed it and applied for a “newsworthiness allowance”, the board said.

This allows content that violates Meta policies to remain on its social media platforms if they are newsworthy and in the public interest. Meta restored the content, put it behind a warning screen that prevents anyone below 18 years from viewing it and then referred the case to the board.

In its findings, the board said it recognises that content depicting non-consensual sexual touching can cause harm to the victims as well as stand out as an example for emboldening perpetrators and increasing acceptance of violence.

It pointed out that Dalits and Adivasis, especially women, suffer discrimination and that crime against them has been rising.

The board also said that social media is an important means of documenting such violence and discrimination and that the content that was removed appeared to have been posted to raise awareness, adding that the post had significant public interest value and thus, enjoyed protection under international human rights standards.

“Given that the video does not include explicit content or nudity, and the majority of the board finds that the victim is not identifiable, a majority finds that the benefits of allowing the video to remain on the platform, behind a warning screen, outweigh the risk of harm,” it said. “Where a victim is not identifiable, their risk of harm is reduced significantly.”

The board agreed that the content violates the Adult Sexual Exploitation policy and that the newsworthiness allowance could be applied in this case. It, however, added that the newsworthiness allowance was inadequate for dealing with cases of this scale.

“The newsworthiness allowance is vague, leaves considerable discretion to whoever applies it and cannot ensure consistent application at scale,” it said. “Nor does it include clear criteria to assess the potential harm caused by content that violates the Adult Sexual Exploitation policy.”

The board recommended Meta include an exception to the Adult Sexual Exploitation Community Standard for depictions of non-consensual sexual touching.

“This would only be applied by Meta’s internal teams and would permit content where the victim is not identifiable, and that Meta judges is shared to raise awareness, is not shared in a sensationalised context and does not involve nudity,” it said.

It also told Meta to update its internal guidance for reviewers on when to escalate content reviewed under the Adult Sexual Exploitation Community Standard that may be eligible for the recommended exception.