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Thu 22 October 2020
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Profits from far-right groups and individuals posting unacceptable content on the social media giant about Muslims may be the reason why it’s not taking action to remove it.


Facebook has made it clear that if you share or post content that describes certain racial, ethnic or cultural groups using negative stereotypes, racially charged slurs or language that incites violence, then your account will be suspended or removed – but for one notable exception: derogatory content about Muslims.

That the social media giant turns a blind eye to anti-Muslim animus has been a suspicion long held by those who track the behaviour of far-right groups and individuals on Facebook, but first allow me to momentarily digress.

Two months ago in this column for Byline Times, I described white evangelical supporters of US President Donald Trump as the “most morally and ethically stunted voting bloc in the United States of America” today by pointing to their naked hypocrisy in providing the country’s most craven and corrupt leader ever the political space to continue carrying out his dastardly deeds.

When I posted the article on my Facebook account, I included the following words: “white evangelicals are the worst kind of people!” A few hours later, I learned my Facebook account had been suspended for 72 hours for violating the social media platform’s “community standards”.

No doubt my wording was dumb, particularly because it’s a lazy generalisation to describe all white evangelicals as “the worst”, given that roughly 13% of them don’t support Trump, thus disavowing themselves of the President’s racism, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry, crass self-aggrandizement and dishonesty. As for the other 87%? Well, I believe that they’re the worst kind of people, and I stand by that claim.

Nevertheless, Facebook has made it clear that it defines seven types of hate speech “attacks” as a violation of its user policy. These include calls for violence, calls for segregation, calls for exclusion, degrading generalisation, dismissing, cursing and slurs. 

In describing white evangelicals as “the worst kind of people”, I had engaged in “degrading generalisations” and thus accepted my 72-hour ban from posting or engaging with other users on the site. But – and here’s a big but – anyone familiar with the platform knows that far worse language than the words I was sanctioned for goes routinely unpunished.

For instance, a 2017 investigation by Pro Republica revealed that Facebook had 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”. Facebook declared the photo to be acceptable. “We looked over the photo, and though it doesn’t go against one of our specific Community Standards, we understand that it may still be offensive to you and others,” it said.

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If a post that essentially claims all Muslims deserve death doesn’t constitute at least one of Facebook’s seven deadly sins, then I’m not sure what does. It is because the social media giant content moderators agree with the premise?

Facebook’s response to an investigation conducted by The Guardian last week, which found that an Israel-based group is funding 21 far-right accounts with “vast followings across the Western world” to spread disinformation and anti-Muslim hate, all but affirms that it seems to be fine with discrimination against Muslims on its platform.

“The 21 pages were used to coordinate the distribution of more than a thousand ‘news’ posts each week to more than 1 million followers, spreading disinformation and hate targeting Muslims, promoting far-right politicians and vilifying prominent Muslim politicians,” The Guardian noted.

Since Facebook was confronted with its investigation, The Guardian has learned that the platform has been “telling users that dozens of posts distributed through the network meets its community standards”.

“The posts cleared by Facebook include one on Australian Facebook page ‘Assimilate or Migrate’ that falsely associates the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, with the quote ‘The killing of Jews by Hezbollah is not terrorism’,” The Guardian said. “Another uses an altered image to depict Merkel with blood splattered on her hands and face alongside a story about Germany’s support for ‘pro-Hamas’ resolutions at the United Nations… [A third] distorts news about child brides in Turkey to attack Muslims.”

While Facebook has been consistently accused of failing to enforce its user policies in an even-handed manner, there is no place to hide here for the social media giant, given that investigators with the United Nations blamed Facebook for helping to incite the 2017 genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, finding that it did nothing to halt rising hatred. Yanghee Lee, a UN investigator, explained how “Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended” and that it has become a vehicle for inciting “acrimony, dissension and conflict”.

This is not the only instance recently in which Facebook has been presented with evidence that far-right groups are manipulating its platform to amplify anti-Muslim messages as a means to drive profit, boost follower counts, and mobilise voters on behalf of far-right political parties. An investigation by the fact-checking site Snopes revealed in June how a small group of right-wing evangelical Christians had created an array of Islamophobic Facebook pages in conjunction with establishing Political Action Committees (PACs) to build “a coordinated, pro-Trump network that spreads hate and conspiracy theories” about Islam and Muslims.

It’s reasonable to conclude that Facebook turns a blind eye to anti-Muslim hatred because it derives tremendous profits from far-right groups and individuals, with one far-right blogger spending $300,000 alone in ads between July 2017 and September 2018.

In a speech given at the Anti-Defamation League last month, the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen described both Facebook’s profit motive and the threat it poses to minorities, such as Muslims, by deploying the following metaphor: “If you pay them, Facebook will run any ‘political’ ad you want, even if it’s a lie. And they’ll even help you micro-target those lies to their users for maximum effect. Under this twisted logic, if Facebook were around in the 1930s, it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem’.”

Muslims in Western countries must now be asking themselves how long before they see advertisements on Facebook that promise a “final solution” for them. 

Byline Times has contacted Facebook for a response.


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