Australia

Australian group takes fight to Facebook, saying platform is ‘awash’ with hateful Islamophobia

An Australian-Muslim rights organisation is threatening legal action against Facebook after accusing the tech giant of allowing Islamophobia to proliferate online. 

The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network has been campaigning for Facebook to act against hate speech in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, saying the social media giant must take responsibility for the real-world harm and violence unmoderated hate speech causes.

They point to the lack of action against hateful comments on Facebook such as, “Muslims are the only people on Earth who will earn their genocide”, “Drown ’em at birth”, and “Can we go kill these f***ers yet”. 

“Islamophobia is awash on Facebook,” lawyer and AMAN advisor Rita Jabri-Markwell told SBS News.

“There are strangers out there who completely hate you and want you to die … because of who you are and because of your religious identity.

“They don’t care that you’re a mother or a teacher or member of Australian society. They just want you to be eradicated.”

AMAN has sent Facebook a legal letter outlining its concerns about the spread of hate speech and dangerous conspiracy theories directed towards Muslims, on various accounts, links and group pages on the site. 

The letter, which SBS News has seen, warns Facebook that it could be liable for user-generated hate speech and subject to section 18C of the Race Discrimination Act 1975.

“We understand that space needs to be made for criticising extremist interpretations and groups within the Muslim community, but contextualised analysis of the links and echo chambers on your platform make it objectively clear when racism and dehumanisation underlies their purpose,” it reads.

The organisation has conducted research from 2015 which suggests Facebook has been home to more anti-Islam groups and pages than many other social networks. 

An example of an anti-Islam Facebook group’s questions before submission to the group.

Facebook

 

The Christchurch terrorist was active on a number of far-right groups on Facebook, and used the platform to live-stream his massacre.

AMAN has identified a number of Facebook accounts belonging to anti-Islam websites, which it says are masquerading as news on the platform. It is asking Facebook remove these accounts. 

Some of the websites propagate invasion conspiracy theories similar to those that inspired the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik and the Christchurch mosque shooter, the organisation says.

“There is, I think, quite a very basic, obvious link between the amplification of those narratives on Facebook, and the real-life death threats that Muslims face when they’re going about their [lives],” Ms Jabri-Markwell said.

“The hatred that people have for you because you are visibly Muslim, you know, shows in the way that we’ve been crafted in public discourse.

An example of an anti-Islam Facebook group's questions before submission to the group.

An example of an anti-Islam Facebook group.

Facebook

 

“It is a very visceral and very negative image and Facebook has been supporting that through all these pages and groups through allowing these third party websites which openly suggest that Muslims are inherently subhuman, that we are apparently doing all these conspiracy theory things.”

The group also wants Facebook to amend its hate speech policy to recognise hateful characterisations of Muslims, such as painting Muslims as subhuman or savages.

The policy prohibits attacks against people based on their “characteristics” such as race, religion, or sexual orientation but allows attacks and criticisms of institutions.

Facebook is reviewing its policies about where the fine line between attacks against characteristics and institutions can be crossed, including engaging with external stakeholders such as legal and human rights experts.

The social media giant told SBS News in a statement that it was working to address more implicit hate speech and violent content, including combating attacks against the Muslim community.

“There is more work to do and we appreciate feedback from the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network and others as we refine our policies to keep people safe,” said Mia Garlick, Director of Public Policy, Facebook Australia and New Zealand.

Reforms to the Online Safety Act currently before the federal parliament would extend the powers of the eSafety Commissioner so it could remove racist or dehumanising content targeted against children as well as adults. 

The eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said she was “very concerned” about the proliferation of hate speech on social media, particularly Facebook, targeting Muslim communities.

“It’s clear Facebook needs to be enforcing its own policies and needs to be more vigilant and proactive in identifying and removing this harmful content quickly,” she told SBS News in a statement.

Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are up to three times more likely to experience online abuse and are targeted by hate speech at higher levels than the national average, she added.

“This abuse disproportionately targets their religion, race and ethnicity.”

This isn’t the first time Facebook has been urged to remove Islamophobic content off its platform.

Recently, a group of 30 members of the US Congress co-signed a letter urging Facebook to remove “dangerous” and “deadly” anti-Muslim content on the social media platform. 

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