A new consumer protection lawsuit alleges that Facebook executives such as Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg misled Congress and the American public by falsely stating that the company removes content that violates its policies. The suit, filed Thursday by the civil rights organization Muslim Advocates, alleges that the company routinely allows posts that violate the rules to stand. They say their actions have allowed anti-Muslim hate to spread on the platform, leading to real harm.
As an example of Facebook’s failure in this matter, the organization points to a list of 26 anti-Muslim hate groups it shared with the company. Of those, 19 are still present on the network, and many have names with clear anti-Muslim connotations, such as “Jihad Watch” and “Understanding the Threat.”
“This is not, ‘Oh a few things fall through the cracks,’” Muslim Advocates attorney Mary Bauer told NPR. “This is ubiquitous content that continues to exist despite academics pointing it out, nonprofit organizations pointing it out. Facebook has made the decision not to remove this material.” The lawsuit asks a judge to order Facebook to stop making false and misleading statements about its content moderation policies and practices and to pay “modest” monetary damages.
Facebook’s Community Standards explicitly prohibit hate speech. “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook and regularly work with experts, non-profits, and stakeholders to ensure that Facebook is a safe place for everyone, recognizing that anti-Muslim rhetoric can take different forms,” a Facebook spokesperson told Engadget. “We have invested in AI technologies to remove hate speech, and we proactively detect 97 percent of what we remove.”
Critics have routinely accused Facebook of doing too little to prevent hate speech and misinformation from spreading on its platforms. In its defense, the company will likely point to recent tools it has introduced to better combat hate speech, in addition to new policies aimed at imposing stricter penalties on individuals and communities that repeatedly break the rules.
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