“For the first time, all the evidence of how Facebook’s platform has been used to orchestrate offline violence is in one place”
Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India
NEW DELHI — Facebook has wilfully ignored the dangers posed by anti-Muslim content to the welfare of Muslims across the globe, according to a new report released by two US-based advocacy groups on Thursday.
The report has been prepared by Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group of American Muslims, and the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism (GPAHE), which has been working to “counter the rising tide of extremism across borders”.
The report blames the tech giant of failure to address the anti-Muslim problems despite vows by its CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a recent audit by the company admitting that anti-Muslim hate on the platform “was a long-standing problem”.
The auditors wrote that Facebook Live, during the massacre of Muslims at the Christchurch mosque in New Zealand in March last year, created an atmosphere where “Muslims feel under siege on Facebook”.
“It is beyond frustrating. People’s lives are at stake when Facebook doesn’t act. This isn’t some minor issue; it is an issue of life and death,” Heidi Beirich, executive vice president for GPAHE, says of the consequences of Facebook’s failure to address the anti-Muslim problem.
In November 2018, Facebook admitted that the platform was used to promote violence and hate against Rohingyas in Myanmar. A year later, a new report by an independent internet advocacy group said that the platform was used to spread hate against Muslims in the Indian state of Assam during the controversial citizenship test (the National Register of Citizens).
The report notes that these promises and decisions to audit ring hollow which were made for political expediency. “Investigating human and civil rights abuses and global anti-Muslim hate content that leads to the loss of life should not have been presented as needing to be balanced with an investigation of alleged anti-conservative bias,” the report says.
The use of platform to spread anti-Muslim hate has had deadly consequences. It has been used to orchestrate the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, anti-Muslim riots in India, murders in Sri Lanka, the mosque massacre in New Zealand.
“For the first time, all the evidence of how Facebook’s platform has been used to orchestrate offline violence is in one place,” says Beirich while explaining the importance of the report. “It makes clear that Facebook must change its ways and stop anti-Muslim hate on the platform. The cost is too high.”
For years, civil rights groups have been raising alarm on the anti-Muslim content and its consequences urging the company to take action. Yet, “Facebook’s strategy was to wait and do almost nothing.”
Rather, its executives were found doing exactly the opposite; in August, Wall Street Journal revealed that in India, the company’s top public-policy executive Ankhi Das blocked application of hate speech rules against anti-Muslim content by politicians, including lawmaker T Raja Singh, from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The executive cited a potential business for the company to convince the company of her decision.
“Das’s abuse of her authority in support of her political allies has led to the loss of lives.” The report alleges that controversial BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s provocative speech that triggered anti-Muslim riots during protests against a citizenship law in Delhi in February 2020 was showcased on Facebook and was “allowed to stay up”.
Interestingly, Zuckerberg cited Mishra’s speech, in an employee town hall meeting in June, as an example of the content Facebook wouldn’t tolerate from a politician.
While explaining how Facebook is used to spread hate against Muslims in India, the report alleges that the ties between the company and the BJP—the biggest advertising spender on the platform in India in recent months—are deep.
The report, however, acknowledged that outrage in response to these disclosures forced Facebook to finally ban lawmaker Singh from the platform in early September 2020.
In India, Facebook and WhatsApp have been used to incite violence against Muslims in the form of beatings and lynchings forcing the company to limit the number of forwards.
The report urges the company to enforce community standards to address anti-Muslim hate with “no regard to political and economic implications”. It also asks Facebook to ban the use of event pages targeting Muslim community. Moreover, the report recommends that the Facebook create a senior staff working group responsible for monitoring company’s progress in removing offending content, including anti-Muslim hate content.