Facebook’s reluctance to oppose anti-Muslim bigotry on its website has led dozens of US members of Congress to try and force the tech behemoth into action.
Facebook has become one of the world’s most dangerous websites for Muslim minorities around the world – this was the conclusion shared by investigators and lawyers with the United Nations, International Criminal Court, multiple independent inquiries and now nearly three dozen Democratic Party members of the United States Congress.
On Tuesday, a group of 30 members of US Congress, all of whom are Democrats, co-signed a letter to Facebook, calling on the social media giant to take concrete steps to “eradicate anti-Muslim bigotry” on its platform, while also criticising the company for failing to do anything about it until now.
“Facebook cannot celebrate the success of its platform while ignoring its role in elevating the dangerous, deadly content targeting Muslim people,” said US Congressperson Debbie Dingell (D-MI) in a statement.
The letter signed by high profile members of Congress, including Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal, and Barbara Lee, not only slammed Facebook for doing too little too late to stop and remove anti-Muslim content from its pages, but also blamed it for allowing violent right-wing extremist groups to organise events that incite violence against Muslims.
“In many of these instances, pages, events and other content are reported to Facebook but face delayed response times or are ignored,” the letter stated.
“The platform’s slow reaction to these warnings underscores a pattern of negligence in responding to or removing content that promotes violence against these vulnerable communities and has allowed anti-Muslim content to proliferate on Facebook in a dangerous manner.”
The calling out of Facebook by senior and prominent members of the Democratic Party controlled House of Representatives should not be underestimated. The company is registered in the US, headquartered in California, making it far more difficult for the company to ignore similar calls made by non-US entities and bodies in the past, especially given Congress has already demonstrated a willingness and appetite to drag its executives before congressional committees.
In other words, it will be much harder for Facebook to stubbornly refuse and deny congressional demands, the same way it has refused and denied demands made elsewhere. One such request was made by The Gambia in a US District Court that called on the company to release “all documents and communications produced, drafted, posted or published on the Facebook page” by Myanmar military officials and security forces, to evaluate what role they played in mass murdering and liquidating hundreds of Rohingya Muslim villages during the closing months of 2016.
The company’s stubbornness not only came after a UN Special Rapporteur blamed Facebook for spreading hatred against the Rohingya and inciting “acrimony, dissension and conflict,” resulting in possible genocide, but also after Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, acknowledged the company had found “clear and deliberate attempts to covertly spread propaganda that were directly linked to the Myanmar military.”
Facebook has also been blamed for throwing Muslim minorities under the proverbial bus at the behest of rich and powerful states, including India, in which a recent Wall Street Journal investigation found that the company refused to punish right-wing Indian politicians for advocating violence against Muslims because “punishing violations by politicians from Mr. Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country,” according to Facebook employees cited by the US newspaper.
What’s clear is that Facebook enforces its community standards against certain users but not others, as revealed in a 2017 investigation by ProPublica that found the company received a complaint for a meme that included the photo of a presumably deceased ISIS militant and the words “the only good Muslim is a f**king dead one,” but then replied to the plaintiff that it didn’t violate its “specific community standards,” despite it being “offensive to you and others.”
The mental gymnastics one has to perform to determine a post calling for the death of all Muslims to not be in violation of reasonable user rules is unfathomable, given Facebook defines prohibited hate speech as a “direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristic – race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity and serious disease or disability.”
It’s impossible to imagine Facebook would tolerate similar discrimination and threats against Christian, Jews, gays, or others, but it should be noted that the example cited by ProPublica does not reflect an isolated incident but rather a pattern of behaviour. A 2019 investigation by The Guardian reveals that Facebook is telling users that anti-Muslim posts distributed through a clandestine network of far-right pages meet its “community standards,” despite revelations they are being used as “part of a coordinate scheme profiting from hate and disinformation.”
It’s for these reasons nearly three dozen US members of Congress have had enough, accusing Facebook of lacking “the will to effectively address hate and violence against Muslims” and “prioritise the eradication of anti-Muslim content on the platform” by immediately implementing the following measures:
1. Form a working group comprised of senior staff focused on anti-Muslim bigotry issues and responsible for coordinating work within the company to address hate groups, tropes, bigoted content, and anti-discrimination training.
2. Enforce your hate content and hate group policies in a way that ensures militias and white supremacists cannot use your event and group pages to terrorize targeted communities.
3. Committing to an independent third-party review of the company’s role in enabling anti-Muslim violence, genocide and internment.
4. Strive towards and commit to a 100 percent proactive detection and removal of anti-Muslim content and all other forms of hate before it is even seen.
5. Commit to regular anti-discrimination training for your entire staff world-wide.
6. Training key staff on civil rights issues and common words, phrases, tropes or visuals used by hate actors to dehumanize and demonize Muslims.
It’s high time for Facebook to listen and implement these concrete measures, otherwise it will have the blood of those killed in the next genocide, anti-Muslim pogrom or terrorist attack in a mosque on its hands.