Facebook sued over anti-Muslim hate speech

Facebook. Editorial credit: Chinnapong / Shutterstock.com

Facebook is being sued for letting anti-Muslim hate speech remain on its platform despite promises to remove it.

Civil rights group Muslim Advocates, Gupta Wessler PLLC and University of Chicago Law Professor Aziz Z. Huq filed a lawsuit in the District of Columbia Superior Court last week.

The suit alleges that over the past three years, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and other Facebook executives have violated the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act by falsely testifying to Congress and falsely promising national civil rights leaders that when the company learns of content that violates its standards or policies, that content is taken down.

Instead, Facebook routinely fails to remove or take down such content, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit cites examples of groups with names like “Death to Murdering Islamic Muslim Cult Members” and “Filth of Islam” that Facebook did not remove despite being notified, even though Facebook policy prohibits “reference or comparison to filth” on the basis of religion. In the latter case Facebook did remove some posts from the group, but not the group itself.

Muslim Advocates said: “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. 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.

Mark Zuckerberg. Editorial credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO / Shutterstock.com

“As you’ll see in this must-watch video on TwitterFacebook or Instagram, Facebook executives are lying. And that’s illegal.

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“Muslim Advocates and others have continually flagged hate speech and hate groups that should violate Facebook’s policies, yet remain on the platform. This is not only a grave social problem, as we’ve outlined in our scathing report Complicit: The Human Cost of Facebook’s Disregard for Muslim Life, it is also a legal problem.

“On April 11, 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized to the House Energy and Commerce Committee that ‘We do not allow hate groups on Facebook overall. So, if there is a group that their primary purpose or a large part of what they do is spreading hate, we will ban them from the platform overall.’ That same year, Dr. Megan Squire, a professor at Elon University, published a paper identifying 201 anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S. that still had group pages on Facebook.

“By repeatedly misrepresenting that Facebook takes down prohibited content when the company constantly fails to do so, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and other top Facebook executives violate the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act. That’s why we just filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court with Gupta Wessler PLLC and law professor Aziz Huq.

“This lawsuit represents all of us who seek to hold Facebook accountable for the harm and hate they have unleashed. The company must stop lying and start fixing its platform.”

In a statement, Facebook said it does not allow hate speech on its platform and said it regularly works with “experts, non-profits, and stakeholders to help make sure Facebook is a safe place for everyone, recognising anti-Muslim rhetoric can take different forms.”

Facebook declined to comment beyond the statement, which did not address the lawsuit’s allegations that it has not removed hate speech and anti-Muslim networks from its platform even after it was notified of their existence.

Facebook’s hate speech policy prohibits targeting a person or group with “dehumanising speech or imagery,” calls for violence, references to subhumanity and inferiority as well as generalisations that state inferiority. The policy applies to attacks on the basis of race, religion, national origin, disability, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, and serious disease.

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