Sen. Coons, 14 colleagues press Facebook to take immediate action to combat anti-Muslim bigotry on its platform

Senators call on Facebook to do more to address hate speech and violence, and to adequately enforce “call to arms” policy  

WILMINGTON, Del. – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today led 14 colleagues on a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling on the company 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.

Senator Coons is joined on the letter by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionized the way we communicate.  Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanize 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.

Of particular concern is how Facebook has addressed the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform. 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 recognize that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas,” the Senators 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.”

“As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more.”

An independent civil rights audit of Facebook from July 2020 highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging “[f]rom the organization 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.

In their letter, the Senators urge Facebook to take a number of actions to address these issues including collecting and publishing the data needed to understand the scope of the problem, publishing readily available information to help the public evaluate its response, and implementing a plan to ensure robust enforcement of its call to arms policy.

“We thank Sen. Coons and his colleagues for holding Facebook accountable for anti-Muslim hate and violence on its platform,” said Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera. “Since 2015, Muslim Advocates has warned Facebook that the platform’s event pages were being used by violent militias and white nationalists to organize armed rallies at mosques. With their letter, these senators are raising needed attention to this critical issue. We need to know what Facebook plans to do to end the anti-Muslim hate and violence enabled by their platform—and end it now.”

Groups supporting the letter include 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.

A copy of the letter is here