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GENEVA: A UN human rights expert urged Face­book on Monday to narrow its “sweeping” definition of terrorism to stop governm­e­nts arbitrarily blocking legi­timate opposition groups and dissenting voices.

Fionnuala N. Aolin wrote to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg saying Facebook wrongly treats all non-state groups that use violence in pursuit of any goals as terrorist entities.

“The use of such a sweeping definition is particularly worrying in light of a number of governments seeking to stigmatise diverse forms of dissent and opposition [whether peaceful or violent] as terrorism,” wrote N Aolin, UN special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism.

Facebook’s policy did not take account of rebel armed groups that comply with international humanitarian law, the letter said. She did not give examples, but governments facing armed opposition, such as in Syria, frequently label all their op­­ponents as terrorists, even if other countries do not agree. A Facebook spokeswoman was not immediately available to comment.

N Aolin commended “the important role Facebook plays in offsetting terrorist activity online”, but said it must not unduly interfere in the human rights of its users, and should ensure there is a way to challenge wrong decisions.

Overly broad and imprecise definitions of terrorism may lead to “discriminatory implementation, over-censoring and arbitrary denial of access to and use of Facebook’s services”, wrote N Aolin, a UN Human Rights Council independent expert.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2018