When he was growing up in a small Egyptian town outside Cairo, Omar began feeling sexually attracted to other men. Too afraid to talk to family or friends, he turned to Facebook for help, shielding his identity with a false name.
Scouring social media for information and advice is a common recourse for young men and women who think they may be gay and live in socially conservative Arab societies.
But it can lead them to therapists, spiritual leaders and influencers promising to “cure the affliction” of homosexuality through so-called conversion therapy — practices that aim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Facebook led me to conversion therapy, and I’m not alone,” said Omar, 24, who only wanted his first name used because he lives at home and has not come out to his family.
As a teenager, he stumbled on the Facebook page of Awsam Wasfy, who now has nearly 150,000 followers and still says his therapy sessions can “treat” homosexuality.
Wasfy did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Omar read Wasfy’s posts, connected with other followers, and eventually began sessions with another therapist he found through Facebook, which in 2020 announced a global ban on any content promoting such services.
“I didn’t start out looking for treatment, I wanted to understand, is it normal?” Omar said.
But after feeling threatened by the way the therapist interrogated him, Omar stopped the sessions — describing it as a narrow escape.
“I am lucky the so-called doctor wasn’t violent towards me. He definitely had the potential to be,” said Omar, now an activist who has moderated several Arabic Facebook groups created by LGBT+ activists.
Torture and ill-treatment
In recent years, a number of countries, including Brazil, Ecuador and Germany, have imposed total or partial bans on conversion therapy, which can include talk therapy, hypnosis, electric shocks and fasting.
In July 2020, a UN special rapporteur concluded that conversion therapy practices — long shunned by the mainstream medical community — can amount to torture and ill-treatment when conducted forcibly.
Despite increased global scrutiny, conversion therapy remains legal in most countries including in the Arab world, where LGBT+ people often face persecution or discrimination.
In many Arab countries, homosexuality is not strictly illegal, but activists say police often persecute LGBT+ citizens using other laws, such as those covering public indecency.
In Egypt, medical professionals offering conversion therapy services are part of the mental healthcare system, local LGBT+ groups say.
Following its ban on content promoting conversion therapy, Facebook took action against several English-language conversion promoters.
But Arabic-language conversion content still thrives on Facebook, where practitioners post to millions of followers through verified accounts.
Not only do pre-ban posts advocating conversion therapy remain visible, but new posts continue to flood the site, and conversion therapists appear to promote their services freely.
“From our experience, these posts are almost never taken down, no matter what the rules say,” said the executive director of one Egypt-based LGBT+ rights group, asking to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of its work.
A Facebook ˛spokesperson said that “content that explicitly provides or offers to provide products or services that aim to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity is against our Community Standards and is not allowed on our platform”.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation provided Facebook with more than a dozen examples of conversion therapy promotion still on the platform, including a post by Wasfy promoting a Zoom event on “curing” homosexuality.
Facebook subsequently removed the post — after the Zoom event had occurred — but Wasfy’s account remained active.
Facebook, by far the most widely used social media network in the Arab world, did not say why users could still see multiple Arabic-language conversion posts, including some LGBT+ activists had already flagged to Facebook.
‘Danger to society’
In 2021, Arab LGBT+ group Ankh compiled a spreadsheet of more than 50 posts, pages and videos promoting conversion therapy, half from Facebook and the rest from YouTube or individual websites.
Many advertised conversion services at what they said were medical institutions, providing contact details.
Others were videos with up to 3-million views.
“If you are a parent who only speaks Arabic, you open up Facebook, you search for information, and what you’ll see is posts from people who say they are doctors, and that it’s a disease that can be cured,” said Nora Noralla, an Egyptian LGBT+ researcher.
One video, posted on Facebook after the platform’s ban, encouraged parents who think their children are gay to “detain” them at home until they get help because they pose “a danger to society”.
Taha Metwally, an Egyptian LGBT+ activist who helped compile Ankh’s database, underwent several conversion sessions with Heba Kotb, an Egyptian sex therapist with more than 2-million followers on her verified Facebook page.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment about Kotb’s account.
During the sessions, which Metwally says took place almost a decade ago, Kotb performed an anal examination — an experience Metwally said was traumatic.
Kotb told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she performs anal examinations with patient consent as part of a “sexual assessment”.
Metwally said he has watched with dismay as Kotb has become increasingly popular on Facebook in the years since she tried to treat him, regularly posting videos to millions of followers.
Kotb said Facebook was a key “channel” to interact with patients, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, and said she has dedicated staff who respond to Facebook inquiries.
“I have treated no less than 3,000 cases of gays, all over the Arab world,” said Kotb, claiming a “100% success rate”.
She said she was currently conducting online conversion therapy for 30 people, and Facebook had never removed her posts on the subject or warned her about them.
In February, she posted a Facebook video promoting her conversion therapy business, in which she says homosexuality is caused by childhood abuse. The video, which is still visible on her page, has racked up 1.7-million views.
Facebook uses artificial intelligence (AI) and people, including Arabic-speakers, to moderate content that may violate its rules.
Mathew Shurka, an LGBT+ activist in the US who has worked with Facebook on the issue, said conversion therapists had learnt to use indirect phrases such as “unwanted same-sex attraction” that Facebook might not immediately catch.
“It’s a game of whack-a-mole,” he said. “They’re constantly shifting language and tactics.”
Frustrated with big tech’s response, 28 LGBT+ and women’s rights groups in the Middle East published a letter in March urging Facebook, its picture-sharing app Instagram, as well as Twitter and YouTube, to rein in the “myths” on Arabic conversion therapy posts.
Facebook held workshops with the LGBT+ groups to explain its policies, Metwally said, but declined their request to create a page dedicated to countering the misinformation.
In the meantime, resource-strapped local LGBT+ groups try to fill the gap — flooding therapy pages with comments or reporting posts to Facebook en masse.
It is a formidable task, said the executive director of one Egypt-based LGBT+ organisation who asked not to be named.
“It would be too hard for us to gather all the posts and report it — it’s too vast,” she said.
The least Facebook could do, Metwally said, is to accompany content promising “cures” with warning labels, as it does for inaccurate posts about Covid-19 or elections.
“Why can’t we have that? This is very dangerous content to us — but to Facebook it doesn’t seem to be a priority.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation
Facebook Question – June 3rd, 2021
How to disable or deactivate a Facebook account
Social media can get too much sometimes. Everything happens at once in life that you might not want to deal with all of the mess at once. It’s absolutely alright if you’re thinking of taking a break from all of it. For starters, did you know that you can deactivate your Facebook account without permanently deleting it? If you were looking for this, below are the simple steps following which you can deactivate your Facebook account.
Remember, disabling your Facebook account will remove your name and photos from most things you’ve shared. However, you’ll be able to continue using Messenger.
Here’s how to disable or deactivate Facebook account:
- Open Facebook.com and click ‘Settings & Privacy’ button
Log in to your Facebook account and find an arrow down button on the upper right corner of the page near your profile picture. Click and select ‘Settings & Privacy’ and then click Settings. Here’s the path Arrow down button>Settings& Privacy>Settings
- Navigate to ‘Your Facebook Information’ and scroll down to ‘Deactivate and Deletion’
After opening Settings, find ‘Your Facebook Information’ under ‘General’ and ‘Security Login.’
- Open ‘Deactivation and Deletion’
After clicking ‘Deactivation and Deletion,’ you will find two options there.
- Select ‘Deactivate Account’
Select ‘Deactivate Account’ and click ‘Continue to Account Deactivation.’
So, these were the simple steps you have to follow in order to disable your Facebook account. You can also delete your Facebook account completely, but if you’re planning to get back, disabling your account will be a wise move.
Tech geek, polymath, and movie enthusiast. Batman, who doesn’t like coffee. Totally in love with gadgets, animals, and writing about technology.
Meet the Rustaceans: Neil Mitchell
This article was written in collaboration with Neil Mitchell, a Software Engineer at Facebook.
For today’s interview, we have Neil Mitchell who is a Software Engineer on the Build Infrastructure team at Facebook. The Build Infrastructure team works on build systems such as Buck. While working on this team, Neil has been using Rust as one of the main languages for development. Let’s hear from him about how his experience with Rust has been and learn more about his work.
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m Neil, a Haskell programmer at heart, who has been doing a lot of Rust recently. I did a PhD in Haskell which included making Haskell programs shorter, faster and safer. I joined Facebook 18 months ago to work on developer tooling, which has involved a transition to more Rust.
Why did you/your team at Facebook choose to use Rust over other languages?
I’m a strong believer in having the compiler check your work for you – with enough programmers, and enough code, no one can possibly remember all the subtle properties that make your code safe. However, by enforcing certain rules, the compiler can. The Rust compiler ensures mutability is tamed, concurrency is safe and memory is not leaked. That safety gives us the ability to aggressively refactor as we learn. Combined with advanced abstraction that makes for a powerful language.
What are some of the projects that you’ve worked on at Facebook that use Rust?
I’ve worked on two Rust projects at Facebook that have been open-sourced:
Gazebo is a library of little utility functions for Rust. Nothing it provides is earth-shattering, but having all these little helpers, refined, documented and tested, can prove a real boost. For example, there are functions for splitting strings, annotating cheap versions of clone, the Any trait with lifetimes.
Starlark is an implementation of the Starlark configuration language, in Rust. This project provides a parser, implementation, linter, IDE tools and debugger for the Starlark language. The Starlark language is a deterministic version of Python, often used for configuration. For more information on how Starlark works, check out this blog on our Facebook for developers page.
How do you feel about Rust’s growth trajectory at Facebook?
I think Rust has all the properties to grow into a major language at Facebook. It’s a safer C++. It’s a faster Python. It offers compelling benefits compared to most of the alternatives in this space.
What value does Facebook add to Rust?
Facebook has a large number of programmers, and the more people you have programming a language, the more incidental benefits you get. Beyond that, Facebook often releases open-source libraries, including those in Rust, e.g. Gazebo and Starlark as mentioned above.
How do you think Rust is growing as a language in 2021?
Some people who have used Rust have come to really like it. Why do you think that is and what is your favorite feature about Rust?
Rust has loads of features I like, but my favourite feature in Rust are constructors. In a language like Java, a constructor has lots of special rules, must call super-type constructors, must return an instance of the class – it’s restrictive and annoying. In Rust, a constructor isn’t special – but by convention, it is a static method usually called new, and usually returns Self (the type of the struct). But since it’s a by-convention thing, it feels like a constructor, but all the rules can be tweaked, and it’s much simpler because it isn’t special. This isn’t a big thing, but it’s my favourite feature because it epitomises Rust – a bunch of well-thought-out simplifications that together have a huge impact.
Where can people learn more about Rust and how can they start contributing to it?
There are many resources for learning Rust. I particularly liked Learning Rust With Entirely Too Many Linked Lists. I don’t really recommend any books, because Rust is somewhat resistant to learning through reading – you have to write code. Spend some time setting up your editor and IDE of choice, as much of starting out with Rust is learning to have a conversation with the compiler and borrow-checker. To contribute, start writing some code, and follow wherever your heart takes you.
We would like to thank Neil for taking the time to do this interview. It was very interesting to learn how Rust is being used as a primary language for build systems and how we are learning from all the things we build here and contributing back to the Rust community. We hope you found this interview useful and it gave you some insight into how and where Rust is being used at Facebook. Look out for more interview blogs where we meet with many more engineers and hear their thoughts on this topic.
About the Meet the Rustaceans series
Rust has consistently been ranked as the “most loved” language for the last 5 years and we at Facebook believe that Rust is an outstanding language that shines in critical issues such as memory safety, performance and reliability and is being used widely over a large range of projects here. We joined the Rust Foundation to help contribute towards the improvement and growth of Rust, which not only strengthens our commitment towards the Rust language but also towards a sustainable development of open source technologies and developer communities across the world.
This blog is a part of our Meet the Rustaceans series, where we invite the engineers and developers who use Rust on a regular basis to share their experiences and tell us about the amazing products that they are building using Rust here at Facebook. Look out for more interview blogs where we meet with many more engineers and hear their thoughts on this topic.
Interested in working in Infrastructure at Facebook? Check out our job postings on our Infrastructure career page here.
Facebook Question – June 3rd, 2021
How to disable or deactivate a Facebook account
Arabic LGBT+ activists in a losing battle with Facebook over ‘conversion therapy’
Meet the Rustaceans: Neil Mitchell
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