Letter to Facebook: Prevent religious extremists from censoring atheists and secularists
Dear Facebook administrators,
We, the undersigned organizations, represent hundreds of thousands of ex-Muslims, secularists, humanists, atheists, and agnostics who are dedicated to safeguarding the universal human rights for freedom of religion, belief, and expression.
Due to abuse of Facebook’s reporting tools, atheist and ex-Muslim organizations and groups find themselves yet again the target of censorship campaigns by religious conservatives. We respectfully ask that Facebook create mechanisms to prevent abuse of its features so that our organizations and groups do not fear unjust restriction and removal.
Following what appears to be a coordinated reporting and flagging campaigns, multiple Facebook Groups and Pages are routinely restricted or shut down. Each time, Facebook claims that the restriction or removal is due to violations of its terms of service and community standards. However, each time, no details are given as to which standards are violated. Sometimes, the decision is overturned after appeals and campaigns, sometimes it is not.
Online spaces like Facebook are the last refuge for many atheists and secularists in the Muslim world. Apostates are persecuted by governments, threatened by fundamentalist theocrats, and murdered by vigilantes all over the Muslim world and beyond. Even in the West, many apostates hide their lack-of-faith from friends and family for fear of retribution and social ostracization.
The internet, however, has provided this vulnerable minority with a sense of community that can be impossible to attain in their everyday lives. Atheists can share their beliefs, spreading their ideas and literature in anonymity – considered by many to be a key factor in the rise of atheist visibility in the Muslim world. Facebook in particular has been a boon to community-building efforts among persecuted minorities around the world. In fact, the greater the persecution faced by the group, the more vital the online connectivity and activism.
However, even online, our groups maintain a precarious position, as coordinated attacks using Facebook’s reporting tools are simple and effective. The same social media which empowers religious minorities is susceptible to abuse by religious fundamentalists to enforce what are essentially the equivalent of online blasphemy laws. A simple English-language search reveals hundreds of public Groups and Pages on Facebook explicitly dedicated to this purpose – giving their members easy-to-follow instructions on how to report public groups and infiltrate private ones.
Attacks of this nature are not new. Arab atheists, Bangladeshi secularists, and numerous other groups have been under attack for years, as religious conservatives in the Muslim world learn to abuse Facebook’s reporting system to their advantage. Early last year, multiple atheist and secularist groups were targeted with mass, coordinated infiltration and reporting – leading to the closure of many groups. These groups were eventually restored, but only after a lengthy and sustained effort by organizers to draw public attention to the issue.
However, they, along with dozens of other atheist and ex-Muslim groups and organizations, remain vulnerable to future harassment and targeted campaigns, and many face regular cycles of removal, appeal, and restoration.
So long as the procedures for reporting are liable to be easily misused, the most vulnerable groups will again find themselves without the support and connectivity so vital to their existence and growth.
We, the undersigned, request that Facebook take measures to improve their reporting mechanisms and protect vulnerable groups which rely on its services.
Facebook should create a whitelist for Groups and Pages which are determined as vulnerable to malicious attacks. Reports and flags aimed at these groups should not be handled by automated mechanisms but reviewed and given due consideration by a trained Facebook employee.
Facebook should also penalize individual accounts and groups which are found to have been repeatedly abusing its reporting system.
These measures will help ensure that social media continues to be a valuable asset for empowerment of dissenting and minority voices – we respectfully ask Facebook to develop and implement these measures as soon as possible.
Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA)
Arab Atheist Network
Associação Brasileira de Ateus e Agnósticos
Association of Mindfulness Meditation
Atheist Alliance of America
Atheist Alliance International
Black Nonbelievers, Inc.
British Humanist Association (BHA)
Center for Inquiry (CFI)
Central Council of Ex-Muslims
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Council of Ex-Muslims of France
Council for Secular Humanism
Ex-Muslims of Norway
Faith to Faithless
Foundation Beyond Belief
Hispanic American Freethinkers
Institute for Humanist Studies
International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
Institute for Science and Human Values, Inc.
Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
One Law for All
Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (RDFRS)
Secular Coalition for America
Secular Student Alliance
Society for Humanistic Judaism
The Humanist Community at Harvard
The Humanist Hub
United Coalition of Reason
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