Civil rights group Muslim Advocates is suing Facebook and senior executives, including Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, alleging the company has misled the public about the safety of its social media platforms.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Washington, DC, argues that Facebook is fooling lawmakers, civil rights groups and the general public by generally claiming that it removes content that spits hate or incites violence and yet does not.
“This failure has amplified the volume of anti-Muslim hate bombings on Facebook users. And the anti-Muslim hatred that is pervasive on Facebook is a huge problem – both online and in real life,” according to the trial, which cites repeated comments by former President Donald Trump and the role a militia allegedly playedby inciting a double murder in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year.
“Just as an automaker can’t overstate how safe their product is for boosting sales, Facebook isn’t allowed to either. And that’s what they do, “said Mary Bauer, legal director of Muslim Advocates, in an interview with USA TODAY.” They lie about the safety of their products to avoid congressional regulation and allay the concerns of public and nonprofit groups. . “
For example, the lawsuit cites the testimony of Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, before the Senate Intelligence Committee in September 2018, when she said, “Senators, let me be clear. We are more determined than our opponents and we will continue to fight. When bad actors try to use our site, we block them. When content violates our policies, we will remove it. ”
Yet months earlier Megan Squire, professor of computer science at Elon University, had reported a group called “Veterans Against Islamic Dirt” for violating Facebook’s rules on dehumanizing speech, including comparisons with dirt. Facebook refused to remove the content, according to the lawsuit.
For its part, Facebook said in an emailed statement on Thursday, “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook and work regularly with experts, nonprofits and stakeholders to ensure that Facebook is a safe place for everyone, recognizing anti-Muslims. Rhetoric can take many forms. We have invested in AI technologies to eliminate hate speech, and we are proactively detecting 97% of what we delete. “
Whether the lawsuit has legal merit or not, one researcher says it highlights a troubling pattern.
“Aside from the technical legal aspects, the case of the Muslim Advocates highlights that, in the absence of coercion from Congress or the courts, Facebook will continue to provide a safe haven for hate groups who launch anti-Muslim attacks and stir up conflict. racial, despite Facebook’s repeated commitment against hate speech, ”said David Vladeck, professor at Georgetown Law School in Washington, DC
Activists have spent years urging Facebook and other social media companies to do more to remove harmful content, especially after the deadly riot on Capitol Hill in January, but say the private meetings and public pressure campaigns gave little result. In December, 30 Democratic members of the US House of Representatives wrote a letter urging Facebook to remove anti-Muslim content – after 15 Democratic senators made a similar appeal to the social network the previous month.
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Facebook and other social media companies have wide discretion over how they control content, and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects them from liability. These protections do not extend to a misrepresentation of the security of their platforms, lawyer Peter Romer-Friedman, who represents Muslim lawyers, told USA TODAY.
“We think this is a very deliberate strategy by Facebook to convince the public that its product is safe, or at least trying to make it safe, and to discourage regulators from taking further action. to enforce the law or pass new laws. it would make Facebook more responsible, ”Romer-Friedman said.