Facebook, in cooperation with a British Muslim group, Faith Associates, recently launched a new "guide" developed
especially for Muslims: "Keeping Muslims Safe Online: Tackling Hate and Bigotry".
The launch of the guide was hosted on November 29 at the British Parliament, where Karim Palant, Facebook's UK Public Policy manager, acknowledged "the partnership of Facebook with Faith Associates and said this was a first step in a line of activities being planned to protect the Facebook family". Simon Milner, Head of Policy UK at Facebook, stated:
"We're proud to be supporting Faith Associates in the development of their online safety guide. Facebook welcomes all communities, and there is no place for hate on the platform".
It is curious that of all the groups Facebook could have chosen to "protect" -- if one is to believe that Facebook intends to "protect" other groups as well -- it chose Muslims. Are Muslims the most targeted group in the world today? In Canada, according to fresh statistics, hate crimes against Muslims have fallen while hate crimes against Jews have risen. In the United States, according to Gatestone's A. Z. Mohamed:
"Since 1992... anti-Semitic incidents have been higher than those perpetrated against other groups... To this day, the greatest number of reported religion-based hate crimes have been directed at Jews, and the second greatest against Muslims... in 2015... there was a sharp rise in religion-based hate crimes, particularly against Islam and Muslims. Yet even then, Jews were 2.38 times more likely than Muslims to become victims of a hate crime."
In the UK, anti-Semitic hate crimes were at the highest recorded level ever in 2016 -- 1,078 offenses registered in 2016 compared to 938 in 2015. According to the Guardian, the Metropolitan Police (MET) recorded "1,260 incidents of Islamophobic hate crime in the 12 months to March 2017" in London alone. However, the MET police's definition of "Islamophobia" -- which the MET police claims is widely accepted, including by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights -- is exceedingly wide. According to the definition, as described in the 2012 report, "Hate Crimes Against London's Muslim Communities 2005-2012", Islamophobia is present when:
- Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
- Islam is seen as separate and 'other'. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
- Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.
- Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a 'clash of civilisations'.
- Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.
- Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.
- Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society
- Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.
Not even Orwell could have made this list up.
Even if there is no statistical basis for Facebook's new guide for Muslims, its creation should not come as a surprise. On December 10, 2015, in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, wrote a Facebook post about making Facebook a "safe space" for Muslims. His post did not contain a word of condemnation of the terrorist attack, or allude to any of the widespread Islamic terrorist incitement that his social media platform hosts. Zuckerberg wrote:
"I want to add my voice in support of Muslims in our community and around the world... After the Paris attacks and hate this week, I can only imagine the fear Muslims feel that they will be persecuted for the actions of others... If you're a Muslim in this community, as the leader of Facebook I want you to know that you are always welcome here and that we will fight to protect your rights and create a peaceful and safe environment for you."
The guide appears to be one of the ways in which Zuckerberg has kept his promise. The recently released guide was "...produced in partnership with Facebook to empower you, as a Muslim user on the platform, with the tools, resources and knowledge to identify and deal with harmful content and keep you and your friends safe".
What is "harmful content" according to the new Facebook guide for Muslims? "Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hatred, far right extremism and terrorist inspired violent extremist content", which "all manifest themselves online and can have a detrimental effect on confidence and mental wellbeing". The guide goes on to detail how "harmful content" should be reported to Facebook and in some cases even to the police.
The guide does not mention Islamic incitement to violence, which is rampant on social media and -- unlike the other content mentioned -- has deadly and tragic consequences in the real world, with thousands of people murdered in Islamic terrorist attacks. Most of those who perpetrate terrorist attacks in the real world are Muslims -- not "Islamophobes", anti-Muslims or right wing extremists. Nevertheless, the only -- obfuscating and vague -- reference to Islamic terrorism is at the very end of the guide:
"If you see someone sharing terrorist content and encouraging others to join extremist groups, report them and then make or share posts that show true Islamic messages of peace, mercy and tolerance".
Zuckerberg has made no similar supportive statements in favor of Jews or Christians. So far, no guides have been released on how to keep Jews or Christians safe on Facebook, despite the fact that Jews are overwhelmingly targeted by Muslim anti-Semites and jihadists. Considerably more is at stake in these cases than "a detrimental effect on confidence and mental wellbeing". Two ongoing legal cases against Facebook attest to this fact. One is Lakin v. Facebook, a lawsuit, representing 20,000 Israeli plaintiffs, which aims to stop Facebook from "allowing Palestinian terrorists to incite violent attacks against Israeli citizens and Jews on its internet platform."
Facebook is acting out of a political concern to show Muslim countries that Facebook is willing to respect Islamic blasphemy laws. In July, Vice President of Facebook Joel Kaplan promised Pakistan -- in a call with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan -- that Facebook will "remove fake accounts and explicit, hateful and provocative material that incites violence and terrorism". Khan told the VP of Facebook:
"the entire Muslim Ummah was greatly disturbed and has serious concerns over the misuse of social media platforms to propagate blasphemous content... Pakistan appreciates the understanding shown by the Facebook administration and the cooperation being extended on these issues".
Prior to the Pakistani government's talk with Facebook management in July, Khan convened a special meeting of Muslim ambassadors to discuss "blasphemous content" on social media, and how effectively to "raise the voice of the entire Muslim world against the madness unleashed against Islam and holy personalities in the name of freedom of expression". Khan also met with the secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on this issue specifically, before talking to Facebook management.
Enforcing Islamic blasphemy law is one of the OIC's main causes. How convenient for the OIC that Facebook has decided to champion it.
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.