Facebook faces lawsuit alleging failure to remove anti-Muslim hate speech


Facebook’s hate speech policies are under fire again.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The nonprofit civil rights organization Muslim Advocates has filed a lawsuit against Facebook, alleging that the social media platform’s executives make false and deceptive statements about Facebook’s removal of hate speech and harmful content. Arguing that Facebook is “a cesspool for hate,” the complaint alleges that Facebook’s failure to remove such content has amplified anti-Muslim hate, with online and real-world consequences.

According to the complaint, filed Thursday in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives “routinely misrepresent the company’s practice of routinely failing to enforce its standards and policies for keeping Facebook free of hate speech and other harmful content.”

Read also: Facebook and others are failing to stop anti-Asian hate

“Anti-Muslim hate groups and hate speech run rampant on Facebook with anti-Muslim posts, ads, private groups and other content,” the complaint alleges. “Armed, anti-Muslim protests in the United States have been organized on Facebook event pages.”

Facebook’s execs have also falsely testified to Congress and falsely promised civil rights groups that when it becomes aware of content violating its policies, it removes that content, Muslim Advocates said. Facebook has been failing or refusing to remove such content even when notified by Muslim Advocates and others, the nonprofit alleged in a press release Thursday.

The complaint asks that Facebook either stop misrepresenting that it will remove content that violates its hate speech policies, or “conform your deeds to your words.”

“Facebook has been used, among other things, to orchestrate the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, mass murders of Muslims in India, and riots and murders in Sri Lanka that targeted Muslims,” Muslim Advocates alleges. The complaint also points to when a gunman used the social network to livestream the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

In January, Muslim Advocates also took issue with the Facebook oversight board’s decision to overturn Facebook’s removal of a post by a Myanmar user who had posted photos of a deceased child with the caption “[there is] something wrong with Muslims psychologically.”

“It is clear that the oversight board is here to launder responsibility for Zuckerberg and [Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg,” Muslim Advocates spokesperson Eric Naing said in a statement in January. “Instead of taking meaningful action to curb dangerous hate speech on the platform, Facebook punted responsibility to a third-party board that used laughable technicalities to protect anti-Muslim hate content that contributes to genocide.”

A widespread movement in 2020 also targeted hate speech by boycotting advertising on Facebook for the month of July. Joining the campaign were Verizon, Sony, PlayStation, Microsoft, Volkswagen, Unilever, Clorox, Adidas, Ford and Denny’s, among other big brands.

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