Civil rights group sues Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg over anti-Muslim hate speech

Civil rights group sues Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg over anti-Muslim hate speech
Muslim Advocates claimed Facebook has breached a local consumer-protection law by failing to remove content that breached its own moderation standards.
3 min read
09 April, 2021
Facebook has been accused of failing to police hate speech [Getty]
An advocacy group for Muslim Americans has sued Facebook and top executives, including Mark Zuckerberg for failing to police hate speech, following what it regards as "pervasive" anti-Muslim attacks.

In the complaint filed in Washington on Thursday, Muslim Advocates claimed the social media giant's repeated failures to enforce its own moderation policies have led to a wave of anti-Muslim abuse.

"For years, we have warned Facebook about the barrage of anti-Muslim hate and violent threats that proliferate on their platform - and violate the company’s own policies," Mary Bauer, legal director of Muslim Advocates, said in a statement.

"Facebook executives repeatedly testify before Congress and reassure consumers that they remove content that violates their community standards or other policies and practices. But they don’t," Bauer added.

"Facebook executives are lying. And that’s illegal."

In a report surveying Facebook’s reviewing system, the organisation found the social media platform to have had a "damaging impact on Muslim communities in nine countries" while "wilfully ignored the dangers posed by anti-Muslim content to the welfare of Muslims across the globe".

Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube have generally been able to avoid lawsuits under a 1996 federal law that broadly protects internet platforms from liability for content posted by users.  

Muslim Advocates claimed in the complaint that Facebook officials breached a local consumer-protection law by failing to remove content that breached its own moderation standards as they had vowed to do before Congress.

“Every day, ordinary people are bombarded with harmful content that violates Facebook’s own policies on hate speech, bullying, harassment, dangerous organizations, and violence. Hateful, anti-Muslim attacks are especially pervasive,” it said.

Facebook has rebuffed the claims. A spokesperson said in a statement that "We do not allow hate speech on Facebook and regularly work with experts, non-profits, and stakeholders to help make sure Facebook is a safe place for everyone, recognizing anti-Muslim rhetoric can take different forms."

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The spokesperson said the company uses AI technologies to detect and remove hate speech on its platform.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2018 that "We do not allow hate groups on Facebook." Should there be a group whose primary purpose is to spread hate, "we will ban them from the platform", he said.

Muslim Advocates’ lawsuit will centre on Facebook’s misrepresentation that it takes down prohibited content, while failing to do so.

Several civil rights organisations have repeatedly called on Facebook to take action to eliminate anti-Muslim bigotry and white supremacist content.

Days after the Capitol riot in January, organisations including Muslim Advocates called on Facebook to permanently ban outgoing president Donald Trump for spreading "white nationalist hate and conspiracy theories".

In 2017, Muslim Advocates provided Facebook with a list of 26 groups whose pages violate the company’s community standards but, according to the complaint, 18 of those 26 groups were still visible on Facebook.

The advocacy group is seeking monetary damages as well as a court declaration that Facebook broke the law in Washington.

Bauer said the lawsuit represented "all of us who seek to hold Facebook accountable for the harm and hate they have unleashed".

With an annual budget of over $80 billion, Facebook has the resources to put up a serious legal fight. "But we’re ready," Bauer said. 

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