Washington, DC — 06/15/2021
On July 6, Facebook’s Director of Content Policy Stakeholder Engagement, Peter Stern, wrote to Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) Director Sarah Haider outlining the platform’s new policy banning “attacks” against religious institutions. The email came on the heels of EXMNA expressing concern that ex-Muslims were being systematically and maliciously targeted by extremists who falsely flagged content critical of Islam.
Rather than address these concerns, Facebook has doubled down on this practice, recently creating a community standard that bans “content attacking concepts, institutions, ideas, practices, or beliefs associated with protected characteristics, which are likely to contribute to imminent physical harm, intimidation or discrimination.” This is a departure from the previous policy, which rightfully protected individuals, but allowed for persecuted groups, such as ex-Muslims, to speak out against the harmful or discriminatory practices of religious institutions.
While the new community standard purports to apply only in extreme cases, Facebook’s past practice of enforcing complaints has been overreaching and draconian. “By attempting to prevent future, hypothetical incitement or discrimination, Facebook will be silencing the voices of ex-Muslims and others—many of whom have experienced severe discrimination at the hands of the very institutions that the new standard protects,” said Sarah Haider. She noted that just recently, a broad coalition of secular groups organized by EXMNA (including Arab Atheists, Lebanese Atheists, and Black Nonbelievers) had also met with Facebook to express concern over their enforcement.
“For persecuted minorities, the internet has long been a refuge and safe haven for forbidden speech,” said Haider. “Many of our members have suffered threats of violence and intimidation for leaving their faith. This policy opens the door for the dissolution of Facebook networks where so many ex-Muslims find community and support.”
EXMNA will continue working with Facebook, but is also committed to engaging with lawmakers who regulate social media. “This policy has far broader implications than silencing ex-Muslims,” said Haider. “While individuals must be protected, making institutions immune from criticism sets a dangerous precedent and flies in the face of our freedom of expression. It’s time for Facebook to go back to the drawing board regarding this harmful community standard.”
A copy of the policy is attached to this release.
Since 2013, Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA), an IRS registered 501 (c)(3) non-profit, has stood for the rights and dignities of those who leave Islam. Ex-Muslims of North America advocates for acceptance of religious dissent, promotes secular values, and aims to reduce discrimination faced by those who leave Islam.
“Do not post:
- Content explicitly providing or offering to provide products or services that aim to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Content attacking concepts, institutions, ideas, practices, or beliefs associated with protected characteristics, which are likely to contribute to imminent physical harm, intimidation or discrimination against the people associated with that protected characteristic. Facebook looks at a range of signs to determine whether there is a threat of harm in the content. These include but are not limited to: content that could incite imminent violence or intimidation; whether there is a period of heightened tension such as an election or ongoing conflict; and whether there is a recent history of violence against the targeted protected group. In some cases, we may also consider whether the speaker is a public figure or occupies a position of authority.”