On Thursday, a Muslim civil rights group filed a lawsuit against Facebook and top executives of the company over claims made about how the social media platform removes hate speech from its site.
The lawsuit was filed by Muslim Advocates in Washington, D.C., Superior Court, according to The Associated Press. It claims that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other heads of the company “have engaged in a coordinated campaign to convince the public, elected representatives, federal officials, and non-profit leaders in the nation’s capital that Facebook is a safe product by misrepresenting that Facebook takes down or removes any content that violates Facebook’s Community Standards or other policies.”
The group’s lawsuit claims that Facebook and its senior team failed to “abide by their promises to the public, national officials, and civil rights leaders” in well-known instances that involve former president Donald Trump “or white nationalist militias.” The lawsuit says that “ordinary people are bombarded with harmful content in violation of Facebook’s own policies on hate speech, bullying, harassment, dangerous organizations, and violence” every day and that “Hateful, anti-Muslim attacks are especially pervasive on Facebook.”
The lawsuit continues:
Yet Facebook refuses to “remove” this content or “take it down,” as its executives repeatedly promised that they and the company would do when they learn of such content. Instead, in an effort to convince Congress, civil rights groups, and the public that their product is safe, Facebook’s officials have consistently misrepresented the company’s actual practices when it comes to enforcing Facebook’s own its own [sic] standards and policies to keep Facebook free of hate speech and other harmful content.
This failure has amplified the volume of anti-Muslim hate bombarding Facebook users. And the anti-Muslim hate that’s so pervasive on Facebook presents an enormous problem both online and in real life.
According to The Associated Press, the lawsuit says that Facebook has done nothing or very little in response to many notices of hate speech or calls to violence. “Making false and deceptive statements about removing hateful and harmful content violates the District of Columbia’s consumer-protection law and its bar on fraud, the lawsuit says.”
“Just like a car company can’t exaggerate how safe their product is to boost sales, Facebook isn’t allowed to do that either. And that’s what they are doing,” Mary Bauer, legal director at Muslim Advocates, told USA Today. “They are lying about the safety of their products to avoid regulation by Congress and to assuage the concerns of the public and nonprofit groups.”
USA Today reported that Facebook responded to the lawsuit in a statement via email on Thursday, saying, “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook and regularly work with experts, non-profits, and stakeholders to help make sure Facebook is a safe place for everyone, recognizing anti-Muslim rhetoric can take different forms. We have invested in AI technologies to take down hate speech, and we proactively detect 97 percent of what we remove.”
Facebook’s policy on hate speech says that it defines hate speech “as a direct attack against people on the basis of what we call protected characteristics: race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity and serious disease.”
The policy clarifies that the company defines attacks “as violent or dehumanizing speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing, and calls for exclusion or segregation.”
Social media executives have gone before Congress to testify about the ways in which they push back against misinformation and extremism on their sites. Zuckerberg told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the issue is “nuanced,” AP reported. “Any system can make mistakes” in moderating damaging material, he said.
The plaintiffs who brought the complaint are demanding a trial by jury and statutory damages of $1,500 per violation of the D.C. Consumer Protection Act.