Facebook has been exposed as a hotbed for hate speech and misinformation in recent years. But does the company actually want to do anything about it? 🤔 The social media giant might not have a choice.
In the latest class-action lawsuit filed against Facebook, national civil rights group Muslim Advocates is suing the platform for its failure to remove hate speech against Muslims. The organization, which is based in Washington, D.C., claims Facebook and its top executives allowed anti-Muslim hate speech to “run rampant” 🏃♂️ on the platform.
Read on to find out what the lawsuit is all about and what Facebook has pledged to do to curb ❌ hate speech on the platform.
What the Hate Speech Lawsuit Is About
According to the lawsuit, Muslim Advocates has repeatedly alerted Facebook to hate speech and calls to violence 📣 on its platform that violate its community standards, but the company did very little or nothing at all. It claims Zuckerberg and other senior executives engaged in a “coordinated campaign” to convince Congress and the public that the platform is safe.
“Facebook’s willingness to allow hate and threats that violate its own policies to run rampant on its platform is a grave societal problem, but it is also a legal problem,” said Muslim Advocates Legal Director Mary Bauer in a statement. “As we alleged, by repeatedly misrepresenting that Facebook removes prohibited content when it learns of it, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and other top Facebook executives have made false and deceptive statements to Congress and their users.”
The lawsuit alleges that Facebook repeatedly broke the Consumer Protection Produces Act by making false statements about removing hateful and harmful content that violates its policies. It wants the court to require Facebook and its execs to stop ⛔ lying about how the platform enforces its standards and policies. It also seeks damages for harm to Muslim Advocates.
Examples of Hate Speech on Facebook
In the lawsuit, Muslim Advocates noted multiple examples of Facebook routinely failing or declining to take down offensive content. For example in December 2017, the organization reportedly provided Facebook with a list of 26 anti-Muslim hate groups on the platform. 19 of them are still active today, according to the suit.
In another example, the suit cites Dr. Megan Squire, a professor at Elon University, who in September 2018 published a paper identifying 201 anti-Muslim hate groups based in the U.S. on Facebook. The groups Squire reported had names such as “Purge Worldwide,” “Death to Islam Undercover,” “Filth of Islam,” and “Death to Murdering Islamic Muslim Cult Members.”
Facebook reportedly refused 🙅♂️ to remove the group pages even though its hate speech policy prohibits targeting a group or person with “dehumanizing speech or imagery” and prohibits “reference or comparison to filth” on the basis of religion. However, it allegedly changed how academic researchers can access its platform so that the research Squire performed would be impossible unless done by a Facebook employee.
Facebook Claims It Does Not Allow Hate Speech
When asked about the lawsuit, a Facebook spokesperson told the press: “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.”
Facebook declined to comment beyond the statement, which didn’t address any of the allegations in the lawsuit that claim it refused to remove hate speech and anti-Muslim groups from its platform even after it was notified 😞 about them.
Other Hate Speech Lawsuits Filed Against Facebook
Facebook is facing a separate lawsuit accusing it of failing to police hate speech in France. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced last month that it has filed a lawsuit against Facebook in France, accusing the platform of breaking its own terms and failing to protect 🛡️ users against hate speech.
The Paris-based media watchdog said it was taking the social media titan to court for “misleading commercial practices.” It claims Facebook allowed the “massive proliferation” of hate speech and misinformation ℹ️ on its platform.
Facebook reportedly pledges to provide users with “a safe, secure and error-free environment,” but hateful content and misinformation are still widespread on the platform. The complaint specifically referenced death threats against journalists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo that were posted on the site as well as a debunked French propaganda film about COVID-19 called “Hold Up.”
Assuming the French court rules in RSF’s favor, the case could have a significant impact on Facebook, which uses the same terms of service 🌎 worldwide. Companies found to have carried out misleading commercial practices can also be fined up to 10% of their average annual revenues in France.
What Happens Next?
These types of cases can spend years in court. The fact that so many hate speech lawsuits are being filed against Facebook around the world signals a shift in how the public perceives 🧐 social media platforms.
To its credit, Facebook recently announced a complete overhaul of its automated moderation systems to make them better at catching and deleting hateful language on the platform. These include slurs directed at Muslims, Jews, racial minorities, and the LGBT+ 🏳️🌈 community.
If you are the victim of repeated racial attacks on Facebook or any other social media platform, then perhaps you should consult a social media attorney. These platforms are supposed to take action to protect their users. Failure to do so may be considered a violation of your civil rights.