A new consumer protection lawsuit alleges Facebook executives like Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg have misled Congress and the American public by falsely stating the company removes content that violates its policies. Filed on Thursday by civil rights organization Muslim Advocates, the suit claims the company routinely allows rule-breaking posts to stay up. They say its actions have allowed anti-Muslim hate to spread on the platform, leading to real-world harm.
As one example of Facebook’s failures on the matter, the organization points to a list of 26 anti-Muslim hate groups it shared with the company. Of those, 19 still have a presence on the network, and many have names with obvious anti-Muslim connotations, such as “Jihad Watch” and “Understanding the Threat.”
“This is not, ‘Oh a couple of things are falling through the cracks,'” Muslim Advocates lawyer Mary Bauer told NPR. “This is pervasive content that persists despite academics pointing it out, nonprofits pointing it out. Facebook has made a decision to not take this material down.” The lawsuit asks a judge to order Facebook to stop making false and misleading statements about its content moderation policies and practices and pay “modest” monetary damages.
Facebook’s Community Standards explicitly bans hate speech. “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook and regularly work with experts, nonprofits, and stakeholders to help make sure Facebook is a safe place for everyone, recognizing anti-Muslim rhetoric can take different forms,” a Facebook spokesperson told Engadget. “We have invested in AI technologies to take down 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 is likely to point to recent tools it has introduced to combat hate speech better, in addition to new policies aimed at imposing stricter sanctions on individuals and communities who repeatedly break its rules.