Facebook sued over failure to police anti-Muslim hate speech

The non-profit group Muslim Advocates is suing Facebook, claiming the social media giant fails to police hate speech, especially ‘pervasive’ anti-Muslim attacks.

Muslim Advocates, based in Washington, DC in the United States, is one of several civil rights organisations that have repeatedly called on Facebook to do more to eliminate anti-Muslim bigotry and white supremacist content [File: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg]

An advocacy group for Muslim Americans sued Facebook Inc., alleging that the company’s failure to enforce its own moderation policies has caused a wave of anti-Muslim abuse.

The complaint, filed in superior court in Washington on Thursday, claims the world’s largest social network has failed to remove content that violates its rules against hate speech, despite assuring lawmakers and other government officials that it enforces those policies.

Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube have generally been able to dodge lawsuits faulting them for not removing abusive content, under a 1996 federal law that broadly protects internet platforms from liability for content posted by users.

But in this case, the nonprofit group Muslim Advocates claims that Facebook officials breached a local consumer-protection law by falsely promising that the company would remove content that ran afoul of its moderation standards.

“Every day, ordinary people are bombarded with harmful content that violates Facebook’s own policies on hate speech, bullying, harassment, dangerous organizations, and violence,” according to the suit. “Hateful, anti-Muslim attacks are especially pervasive.”

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement: “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.” The spokesperson said the company invests in AI technologies to detect and remove hate speech on its platform.

Muslim Advocates, based in Washington, is one of several civil rights organizations that have repeatedly called on Facebook to do more to eliminate anti-Muslim bigotry and white supremacist content. Days after the Capitol riot in January, the group urged Facebook to permanently kick outgoing president Donald Trump off its platform for spreading “white nationalist hate and conspiracy theories.”

Muslim Advocates says it presented Facebook in 2017 with a list of 26 groups whose pages violate the company’s community standards. As of this month, 18 of those 26 groups still had pages available on Facebook, according to the complaint.

The advocacy group is seeking monetary damages as well as a court declaration that Facebook broke the law in Washington.

(Updates with Facebook comment in sixth paragraph)

Source: Bloomberg