DC attorney general urges court to hear Facebook hate speech case

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D) is urging the D.C. Superior Court against dismissing a lawsuit that alleges Facebook fueled anti-Muslim hate. 

Racine filed an amicus brief Monday in favor of Muslim Advocates' push to overturn Facebook’s motion to dismiss the case. He argued that the platform is not immune to being held accountable for misleading consumers. 

“Facebook is trying to claim that it — and other massive tech companies — are above the law and cannot be held accountable for their false statements to consumers. But no company is entitled to mislead consumers, and there is nothing in local or federal law that shields companies like Facebook from the consequences of their own deception,” Racine said in a statement. 

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The case, which the civil rights advocacy group filed in April, is posing the latest test of the protections provided for social media companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. 

Facebook’s motion to dismiss the case in part cites liability provided under Section 230 which provides protection for internet companies from being held legally responsible for content posted by third parties. The provision has led to most cases like the Muslim Advocates’ suit being dismissed against tech giants. 

But Racine said Section 230 “does not provide businesses with sweeping immunity for their own affirmative, unlawful misrepresentations about the nature of their goods and services.” 

“The statute was not designed as a general grant of immunity for companies like Facebook,” he wrote.

The complaint filed in April alleges Facebook executives have falsely testified to Congress and promised civil rights leaders that the company removes content that violates its policies when flagged. The group argued Facebook has “routinely” failed to follow through on those promises, and linked the online hate to real world anti-Muslim threats and attacks. 

At the time the complaint was filed, a spokesperson for Facebook denied the allegations and touted Facebook’s investment in artificial intelligence to remove such content. 

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"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 the previous statement. 

The same day Racine filed the amicus brief urging the court to hear the case against Facebook, a separate complaint was filed against Facebook over allegations that it failed to act on hate speech

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar sued Facebook for $150 billion on Monday in California superior court, alleging the company failed to act on anti-Rohingya hate speech that fueled violence against the group. A similar case was filed the same day by Rohingya refugees in Europe in the U.K. 

A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond with a statement about the refugees’ case.