US Senators urge Facebook to address anti-Muslim bigotry

15 US senators called for the platform to address violence and hate speech in a letter to CEO Mark Zuckerberg

FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is displayed on a mobile phone in this picture illustration taken December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Illustration/File Photo
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Facebook is failing to sufficiently address violence and hate speech against Muslim minorities and enforce anti-bigotry policies across its platform, 15 US senators said in a letter addressed to company CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday.

“Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionised the way we communicate. Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanise and stoke violence against Muslims, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, the Jewish community, Sikhs, Christians, women, and other communities here and across the world,” the letter, led by US Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said.

“As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more.”

The senators pointed to areas of particular concern, including the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform and called on Facebook to take more robust action.

It also cited an independent civil rights audit of the company from July 2020 which highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging, “from the organisation of events designed to intimidate members of the Muslim community at gathering places, to the prevalence of content demonising Islam and Muslims, and the use of Facebook Live during the Christchurch massacre.”

The letter also mentioned a recent United Nations report that concluded the company played a “determining” role in violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, pointing out that Facebook has acknowledged the platform was used to “foment division and incite offline violence.”

The letter acknowledged that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the spread of hate across the platform, but said that further action is needed to implement these steps. This includes collecting and publishing data to convey the scope of the problem and implementing a plan to ensure robust enforcement of its call to arms policy, the senators said.

The policy, created in June, bans event pages that call for individuals to bring weapons to a location. However, there have been several occasions when Facebook failed to implement the policy, including a 2019 event page used to plan an armed protest at the largest Muslim community convention in the country, the senators said.

“We recognise that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas … Nevertheless, it is not clear that the company is meaningfully better positioned to prevent further human rights abuses and violence against Muslim minorities today,” the senators said.

“As members of Congress who are committed to protecting the Muslim community, we urge you to take immediate action to combat this bigotry on Facebook’s platforms.”