Facebook Was Warned for 5 Years About Violent Event Pages but Didn’t Act, Civil Rights Group Says

Photo: Pool, Getty Images
Photo: Pool, Getty Images

Over the course of five years, Facebook executives received numerous warnings that event pages were being used to organise hate rallies and other far-right gatherings that encouraged violent threats against others, a leading U.S. civil rights organisation says.

Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights group that works to halt bigotry on the internet, said in an email that it had warned senior Facebook officials about events advocating violence being organised on its platform no fewer than 10 times since 2015. These warnings were sometimes issued in person during small meetings at Facebook’s headquarters and once during a dinner at CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s home.

The group, which has published a timeline of interactions with Facebook, said top officials repeatedly ignored its warnings and allowed militias and white supremacist groups to post events that target communities based on religion and ethnicity.

Zuckerberg told his employees last month, according to BuzzFeed News, that an “operational mistake” was responsible for its moderators failing to remove a militia event page that had encouraged users to bring weapons to a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The page had been flagged by users at least 455 times.

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A 17-year-old white vigilante would go on to kill two people during the clashes in Kenosha after travelling to the state from Illinois. Facebook has denied the militia event is in any way linked to the shooter, whom police allowed to leave the area after attempting to surrender himself into custody.

Muslim Advocates Public Advocacy Director Scott Simpson said his group had warned Facebook time and again that its event pages were being “weaponised” by white nationalists and militia groups, particularly against American Muslims.

“The horror in Kenosha is just one of the many tragic consequences of Facebook’s failure to heed our many warnings,” Simpson said. “Before more lives are lost, Facebook must act now by banning white nationalists, hate groups and militias from using the event pages and banning any event page that includes a call to arms.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

Muslim Advocates is a member of Change the Terms, a coalition of more than 50 civil rights organisations that have pressed Facebook to adopt stronger policies against the promotion of racist threats and other hateful content.

Gizmodo reported last year that Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg met with Change the Terms during a “town hall” where cameras were not allowed and only a single reporter was permitted inside. Sandberg refused to make any promises when pressed about white supremacist groups recruiting and operating on Facebook, sources in attendance said.

Muslim Advocates said it participated in another small group meeting with Sandberg in October 2017. Sandberg was shown images of Facebook events promoted by white nationalists that targeted mosques around the country and photographs of protesters wielding guns. “Nothing was done,” the group said.

The group’s director, Farhana Khera, attended a dinner at Zuckerberg’s home in November where he was pressed by several participants over the need to address white supremacists organising on his platform. Muslim Advocates said at the time they left the meeting feeling “hopeful,” convinced Zuckerberg had displayed real interest in the issue. But the participants were also cautious.

Zuckerberg had also recently dined with Tucker Carlson, who has pushed the line on Fox News that white supremacy is simply “a hoax.”