Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are biased against Muslims, says one group which has filed a lawsuit. The civil rights group Muslim Advocates says that Facebook does not do enough to stop the proliferation of anti-Muslim rhetoric on its social network.
Since the 2016 presidential elections in America Facebook has been under tremendous scrutiny over its perceived failure to stop the spread of fake news. All manner of stories from phony blogs which accused Hilary Clinton of one absurd crime or another were found in Facebook news feeds throughout the 2016 elections cycle. And this was just the tip of the iceberg. Anti-Semitic, racist and even nazi propaganda was found to have been spread over the years on Facebook.
This led to a backlash, including Congressional investigations, into how social media giants like Twitter and Facebook police themselves. Since then these companies have taken measures to block hate speech and fake news from their services. Countless posts by users and links to fake news sites are now blocked. The social media industry made sure not to repeat the mistakes of 2016 during the 2020 elections.
Even President Trump himself was banned by both Twitter and Facebook after the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. This has led to condemnations of Facebook and accusations of violating freedom of speech. Yet one group feels that Facebook has not gone far enough in its censorship of hate speech: Muslims.
Last week Muslim Advocates, Gupta Wessler PLLC and University of Chicago Law Professor Aziz Z. Huq filed a lawsuit in the District of Columbia Superior Court alleging that over the past three years, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and other Facebook executives violated the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The suit alleges that they falsely testified to Congress and falsely promised national civil rights leaders that when the company learns of content that violates its standards or policies, that content is taken down. The suit alleges that Facebook routinely fails to remove or take down such content when it relates to Muslims.
Under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act, it is illegal for a company to make material misrepresentations about a good or service in the District of Columbia. This lawsuit alleges that Facebook’s executives have repeatedly done this by falsely telling Congress that the company takes down all content that violates its standards and policies when Facebook learns about such content.
“What we’re saying in the lawsuit to Facebook is, ‘Do one of two things: Stop lying, or have your actions conform to your statements,'” Muslim Advocates lawyer Mary Bauer told NPR. “This is not the, you know, oh, a couple things are falling through the cracks. This is pervasive content. Facebook has made a decision not to take this material down.”
“A corporation is not entitled to exaggerate or misrepresent the safety of a product to drive up sales,” added Bauer. “They [Facebook] have made false statements to placate civil society groups and to convince Congress that there’s no need for regulation because they’ve dealt with their problem.”
A spokesman for Facebook responded saying, “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 lawsuit, however, will need to jump through many hurdles before it can get off the ground. Facebooks lawyers will be sure to argue that the District of Columbia does not have jurisdiction over such matter. They can be expected to say that such a suit must be brought in federal court. They will also be sure to point out that any comments made by Mark Zuckerberg when testifying before the U.S Congress cannot be subject to any D.C. municipal statute. The case would be different if he had made the same comments in some sort of public forum in a private Washington D.C. venue.
The plaintiffs, certainly, wish to make headlines and push Facebook to do more to stop Muslim hate speech. In that respect the ball is now in Facebook’s court and the company can make moves o moot the suit.
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. It says that it ensures that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.