Advocacy group accuses Facebook of fueling anti-Muslim hate

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A new lawsuit from civil rights group Muslim Advocates claims Facebook deceived Congress and users over its commitment to remove content that violates the platform’s policies, thus fueling anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court on Thursday alleges that over the past three years Facebook’s top executives have violated the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act by falsely testifying to Congress and promising civil rights leaders that the company removes content that violates its policies when it is flagged.

The complaint alleges that despite what Facebook executives have claimed, the platform “routinely fails” to follow through on the promise.

“Facebook’s executives might believe that they are legally entitled to operate a social media platform that acts as a cesspool for hate. But what its executives certainly cannot do is misrepresent to Congress, national civil rights leaders, and its users in the District of Columbia that Facebook does, in fact, remove or take down content that violates its own standards and policies while routinely refusing to do so,” the complaint states. 

The lawsuit, filed by Muslim Advocates, law firm Gupta Wessler and University of Chicago Law Professor Aziz Z. Huq, names Facebook, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg and its Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg as defendants.

The suit claims the alleged misrepresentation of content removal policies is linked to anti-Muslim threats and attacks.

It alleges that anti-Muslim hate groups and hate speech have “run rampant” on Facebook through posts, ads and private groups, and that “armed, anti-Muslim protests” in the U.S. have been organized on Facebook event pages. 

The complaint also cites the deadly Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shooting in 2019 that was live-streamed on the platform and shared through Facebook “an untold number of times worldwide.”

“If Facebook’s executives had enforced their own Community Standards and policies as they promised, a significant amount of the anti-Muslim hate and realworld damage could have been avoided,” the complaint states.

Muslim Advocates legal director Mary Bauer added in a statement, “Because of Facebook’s failures, Muslims in America have been attacked and threatened. We hope that this lawsuit is a first step towards finally holding Facebook accountable for all the harm and hate that the company has unleashed.”

The group is calling for Facebook to either “stop misrepresenting” that it will remove content that violates its policies, or “conform your deeds to your words.”

A spokesperson for Facebook denied the allegations in the lawsuit. 

“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. We have invested in AI technologies to take down hate speech, and we proactively detect 97 percent of what we remove,” the spokesperson said in a statement. 

Facebook has faced mounting scrutiny over its content moderation policies from advocates and lawmakers from both parties.

Democrats have widely bashed the platform for not taking a strong enough stance against hate speech, while Republicans have accused the platform of censoring content with an anti-conservative bias, though a report this year found such claims were not backed by evidence.

Tags Facebook Hate speech Lawsuit Mark Zuckerberg Social media

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