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Suit seeks to limit anti-Muslim speech on Facebook but roots of Islamophobia run far deeper

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(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE CONVERSATION) A civil rights group is suing Facebook and its top executives in federal court over the company’s failure to crack down on hate speech against Muslims.

Muslim Advocates, a Washington, D.C.-based organization focused on discrimination against American Muslims, alleges in the suit that Facebook has violated a series of local and federal consumer protection laws. The suit points out that the company itself, in a July 2020 internal audit, found that “Facebook has created an atmosphere where ‘Muslims feel under siege’” on the platform.

I am a scholar who tracks anti-Muslim activity such as violence, harassment, public speeches, property crimes and policies that target Muslims. This suit is right that many Muslims in the United States feel under siege – and have for quite some time.

But I am cautious about assigning too much blame to Facebook for the staggering magnitude and breadth of anti-Muslim activity in the U.S. As the author of “Fear in Our Hearts: What Islamophobia Tells Us about America,” I argue that this could be a convenient distraction – with limited overall effect – from the deeper histories and realities of white supremacy that require sustained attention.

American Muslims feel under siege

The years 2015 to 2019 saw a spike in hateful incidents against Muslims, with the news media reporting more than a 1,000 cases over this period. The incidents ranged from everyday harassment and violence to federal policies targeting Muslim communities.

State-level anti-Shari’a legislation also escalated. The idea behind these bills was that Islamic law, which was often left ill-defined or undefined by lawmakers, posed a danger to the United States. Many legislators who introduced these bills acknowledged they were not spurred by any particular cases in which Islamic law undermined the work of courts in the United States. The point was to raise suspicion of Muslims and Islam.

Additionally, the real number of hateful incidents against Muslims is likely higher. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that, in general, over 50% of hate crimes go unreported. Even when people do report them locally, there is no unified process for national tracking.

Some projects have started to document the extent and effects of these incidents. For example, I contribute to Mapping Islamophobia, a website tracking reports from reputable media outlets to capture trends over time, as well as individual stories behind them. From 2016 to 2019, ProPublica addressed the hate crime data problem with Documenting Hate, a multinewsroom and crowd-sourced collaboration to create a database of hate crimes.

Elon University computer scientist Megan Squire, whose work contributed to the new lawsuit against Facebook, has drawn on publicly available Facebook data to analyze the enormous volume of hateful content against Muslims circulating on the platform.

The common thread: white supremacy

Importantly, Squire’s research also shows that anti-Muslim activity was deeply connected to fear and suspicion of nonwhite communities. Over the past hundred-plus years, nonwhite and immigrant communities have often been portrayed as being threats to white America.

For example, legislation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries excluded Asian immigrants. The post-Civil War era of Jim Crow segregation, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, also reflected and contributed to this suspicion.

Not all Muslims in the U.S. identify as people of color. But the idea that Muslims constitute a “race” has become more common in recent years. Under the Trump administration, one way this played out was in the government’s ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries.

But what these phenomena all have in common is that they are rooted in the history and contemporary reality of white supremacy.

This makes calling for Facebook to police anti-Muslim speech more complicated than it may seem at first glance. Facebook has on many occasions pledged to strengthen its efforts to root out hate speech on the platform, most recently in December of 2020. However, systemic racism often ends up inadvertently written into the complicated math formulas at the foundation of all internet search and content curation, including Facebook’s. This is called algorithm bias.

Given that billions of people use Facebook – and for many millions it’s the only way they access the internet – the connections between algorithms and racism on Facebook are especially significant.

Civil rights leaders have been pressuring Facebook for some time to address algorithms that are not up to the task of monitoring hate speech on the platform that targets people of color. The lawsuit filed by Muslim Advocates suggests that anti-Muslim speech remains rife despite Facebook’s effort to revise its algorithms.

The suit alleges that Facebook’s failure to more closely control hate speech on the platform results in the proliferation of anti-Muslim content for everyone to see, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Muslim Advocates say this seeds and cultivates anti-Muslim bigotry and leaves Muslims feeling under siege.

Still, tweaked algorithms are likely not enough to solve a social problem with deep roots.

[Explore the intersection of faith, politics, arts and culture. Sign up for This Week in Religion.]

Suing Facebook is a small part of the picture

Sustained legal, political and cultural efforts are necessary to address more than acute symptoms of the deeper problem. Muslim Advocates’ lawsuit against Facebook is an example of using the legal system to address expressions of public hate against Muslims. The legal system does not guarantee redress, but it does offer an essential avenue for action.

Political steps could be taken as well. Congress could pass legislation creating a uniform national system for tracking hate crimes, including funding ramifications for nonparticipation. If it were implemented and maintained effectively, such a system could provide more clarity about the systemic nature of harassment, intimidation and violence against communities of color, including but not limited to Muslims.

The recently passed bill addressing anti-Asian violence, which President Biden signed into law, may be a step in the right direction. It creates stronger incentives for local and state law enforcement agencies to report data about hate crimes, even if stopping short of mandatory data reporting systems.

Critics, however, claim that the legislation will ultimately have limited effects because it does not address the underlying reasons that communities of color and other targeted groups experience public hate.

Muslims across the United States have long engaged in a concerted effort to humanize themselves to the broader American public. Many of these efforts, reflected in the rising number of Muslims running for political office at all levels of government, emphasize local connections and the shared values and interests that come with living together in a town, city or state.

But it is a burden that Muslims cannot bear themselves. Anti-Muslim hostility – online and off – is one manifestation of the nation’s deep, everyday racial inequities, and failure to come to terms with histories and realities of white supremacy will not make its effects simply disappear. As the writer James Baldwin once said, “An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/suit-seeks-to-limit-anti-muslim-speech-on-facebook-but-roots-of-islamophobia-run-far-deeper-159418.

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How to prepare your Facebook account for your digital afterlife

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Today, our online lives are where we share a lot of private and personal information, especially on social media platforms where we share many of our thoughts, post photos and videos over the time we have spent online. Among these social media platforms, Facebook is the most used social media service today. A lot of us, our friends and our family members have a Facebook account. We post and share everything from our private photos to a personal message via Facebook.

But have you wondered what happens to your Facebook account and the information (like posts, comments, photos, videos, etc.) that you have created and accumulated on the service after your time?

■ What will happen to my account?

■ Who can access your profiles?

■ Who will own your account and data?

■ How to manage it when such a time comes?

Facebook has added features to your account so that you can decide what happens to your account when such a time arises. Follow the steps given below to set it up and ensure that the information in your Facebook accounts is handed over to someone else safely or managed according to your choice.

Setting up Facebook’s legacy contact:

In the case of Facebook, you can choose to memorialise your account and hand over the control to a ‘Legacy contact’ of your choice or altogether delete your profile after your time.

Step 1: To set up your legacy contact, you can visit the ‘Settings & privacy’ option under your profile and select the ‘Memorialisation settings’ under ‘General Account settings’. You can also sign in to your account and visit https://www.facebook.com/settings to access this setting.

Step 2: Now, you can choose a legacy contact in this setting by searching for and adding a friend from your account as your legacy contact. Do note that, once memorialised, the legacy contact can only moderate the posts on your page and not post on your behalf.

Step 3: The following setting is to choose whether to allow your legacy contact to download all your data that you have created or shared on your Facebook account like posts, photos, videos etc.

Step 4: The final setting on this page could be considered an alternative to choosing a legacy contact. This setting is to delete your complete Facebook account once you pass away. Facebook needs to be informed about your death and requires verifying it with valid documentation to activate this feature. The company will delete all your information on Facebook on completion of this process.

To know more about these settings, you can visit the FAQ page on legacy contact.

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Big EU lawsuit against Facebook morphs into 3-year ‘partnership’ with complainants

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Three years ago, a group of EU consumer agencies launched a multi-country lawsuit against Facebook, accusing the social media giant of having illegally harvested the data of millions of users.

More than 300,000 angry Facebook users positioned themselves behind the collective action suit, which promised to award them individual monetary damages if the company was found guilty of wrongdoing.

On Friday, those lawsuits quietly morphed into a brand new partnership with Facebook.

Euroconsumers, the umbrella organization behind the Spanish, Italian, Belgian and Portuguese lawsuits, announced they were entering a partnership with the company focused on the “safety and privacy” of Facebook users.

The move comes after POLITICO reported that Euroconsumers had settled its lawsuit with Facebook at the end of April — and highlights the fact that collective action lawsuits rarely make it over the finish line in Europe, sheltering companies from the type of action that can produce crippling damages in U.S. courts while leaving consumers with little recourse.

Originally, Euroconsumers had told people who joined the case it would seek compensation of €200 for every Facebook user whose data was mishandled.

In the end, though, there will be no court decision, no admission of wrongdoing by Facebook and no direct payment from the company to consumers as a result of the settlement, according to Euroconsumers.

Instead, the consumer groups and Facebook said they were forming a joint committee focused on three priorities: sustainability, digital empowerment and fighting scams. The issue of privacy — which was the explicit focus of the lawsuit — is the “umbrella” under which the thee priorities fall.

As for the consumers, they are being promised a vague consolation prize.

The four consumer groups said they would commit to “reward” consumers who joined the original lawsuit with “a package to help consumers be safe online” — but no hard cash.

Asked whether Facebook had paid money to Euroconsumers in the settlement, the group declined to comment. POLITICO reached out to Facebook, but the company didn’t give an immediate response apart from the press release.

Meanwhile, the committee isn’t committed to producing any specific results.

“There are specific initiatives in the making, but there will also be a consumer reporting channel. We will able to report problems that emerge, like feedback from our members,” said Els Bruggeman, head of policy at Euroconsumers.

A spokesperson for the group said: “It’s the moment to try to influence the reasoning from companies who are managed far away.”

Legally speaking, though, the heat is off Facebook.

The consumer groups will evaluate their collaboration in three years.

“An agreement for one year would be too short. Three years is long enough to be able to evaluate. There will be a lot of changes in the digital world in that period,” added the spokesperson.

In the meantime, a change in legislation may give future collective action lawsuits in Europe more teeth: A directive finalized late last year could lead to bigger pan-European collective redress cases.

Want more analysis from POLITICO? POLITICO Pro is our premium intelligence service for professionals. From financial services to trade, technology, cybersecurity and more, Pro delivers real time intelligence, deep insight and breaking scoops you need to keep one step ahead. Email [email protected] to request a complimentary trial.

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Russian watchdog demands that Facebook delete post insulting WWII veterans

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MOSCOW, May 29. /TASS/. Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) demanded that US company Facebook delete an Instagram post that insults the memory of World War II veterans, the watchdog said on its website on Friday.

“Roskomnadzor has sent a letter to Facebook Inc top management, demanding that content insulting the memory of World War II veterans be deleted,” the watchdog said. “The governmental agency found the unlawful post on the Instagram social network, owned by Facebook.”

According to Roskomnadzor, publication of clearly offensive information that insults Russia’s military glory and memorable dates, or desecrates military glory symbols, or offends WWII veterans constitutes a criminal offense in Russia and is subject to criminal proscution.

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