15 Democratic senators ask Facebook to take action to combat anti-Muslim bigotry

Washington: A group of 15 influential Democratic senators on Monday asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to take immediate action to combat anti-Muslim bigotry on its platform.

In the letter written by Senator Chris Coons, who is being considered as a potential Secretary of State in the next Biden administration, these senators called on Facebook to fully address the problem of anti-Muslim bigotry on its platform, which has enabled offline violence against Muslims in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

“Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionised the way we communicate. Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanise and stoke violence against Muslims, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, the Jewish community, Sikhs, Christians, women, and other communities here and across the world,’ the Senators wrote.

“Reports indicate that the platform has also been used to support the internment of the Uyghurs in China and other human rights violations against this population, that Facebook and WhatsApp have been used to incite violence against Muslims in India, and that Facebook has been used to promote hate and violence in other areas around the world,” the Senators wrote in the letter to Zuckerberg.

“Advocacy groups similarly detailed the extent and persistence of anti-Muslim hate content on Facebook India in multiple reports last year, concerns that have been amplified by recent allegations that some high-ranking employees at Facebook India have enabled hate speech against Muslims and others by applying the platform’s content moderation policies in a selective manner,” wrote the Senators.

Of particular concern is how Facebook has addressed the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform, said the letter, which was signed by Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, Dick Durbin, Mark Warner, Robert Menendez, Patrick Leahy, Ben Cardin, Michael Bennet, Gary Peters, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Chris Murphy, and Bernie Sanders.

In June 2019, Facebook responded to concerns about these practices by creating a ‘call to arms’ policy that prohibits event pages that call for individuals to bring weapons to a location.

However, the senators note that Facebook has not taken adequate steps to enforce this policy, which should have barred an event page in Kenosha, Wisconsin earlier this year, as well as a 2019 event page used to plan an armed protest at the largest Muslim community convention in the country.

‘We recognise that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas,’ they wrote.

‘Nevertheless, it is not clear that the company is meaningfully better positioned to prevent further human rights abuses and violence against Muslim minorities today,’ they said.

Urging Facebook to do more, they said that an independent civil rights audit of Facebook from July 2020 highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging ‘[f]rom the organisation of events designed to intimidate members of the Muslim community at gathering places, to the prevalence of content demonizing Islam and Muslims, and the use of Facebook Live during the Christchurch massacre…’ These concerns have also prompted current Facebook employees to write a letter demanding action on anti-Muslim bigotry and calling for broader structural changes, they said.

Several groups have supported the letter.

Prominent among them are Muslim Advocates, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Center for American Progress, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Campaign, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Free Press, Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, Interfaith Alliance, Japanese American Citizens League, MediaJustice, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Shoulder to Shoulder, Sikh Coalition, and UltraViolet.

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