Facebook has come under fire from LGBT+ activists across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) due to the platform’s lack of response regarding a rise in online hate speech and homophobic violence.
MENA LGBT+ activists are reporting a surge in terrifying messages being posted on Facebook encouraging people to target and kill members of the queer community. According to Gay Star News, one particular post translated to, “If you think it’s your right to act on sodomy/homosexuality, then it’s my right to throw you off the roof.”
Across Facebook, there has reportedly been a rise in anti-LGBT+ rhethoric, such as violent illustrations depicting queer people being subjected to harmful acts. However, the social platform reportedly responded to the queer MENA activists by stating the post “doesn’t go against our community standards, including hate speech.”
Co-founder of the France-based ANKH Association for minority rights, Nicolas Gilles, spoke about the death of Sarah Hegazy, who was forced to flee Egypt after being charged with “promoting sexual deviancy”. He said, “The LGBT+ community now in the Arab world are … witnessing harassment and bullying and everybody is saying they could be the next [Hegazy] and we don’t want that.”
22 LGBT+ activists penned an open letter to Facebook demanding further action towards stopping this violent rhetoric. Speaking with Reuters, executive director of the Morocco-based ATYAF Collective, Adam Muhammed, stated, “In the US and Europe, there is no room to spread hate speech against any sexual orientation, race, religion, sect or any other social group. We addressed a letter to Facebook asking its management to implement the same policy here as it uses in other countries.”
The open letter reads, “Although the MENA LGBTQI+ community has been reporting thousands of Arabic hate speech posts … most of these reports were declined because the content ‘did not contradict the Facebook community standards.’ This is due to the lax implementation of effective anti-hate speech policies in our region, which makes the platform unsafe for sexual minorities.”
In response to the open letter, Facebook told Reuters, “We know we have more work to do here and we’ll continue to work closely with members of the LGBTQI+ community in the Middle East and North Africa to develop our tools, technology and policies.”
Large companies, such as Starbucks, Ford, Coca-Cola, Honda, and Verizon, and many others, have pulled their ads from Facebook to protest the platform’s lack of response in addressing hate speech online. This was part of the Stop Hate for Profit Campaign organised by several human rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Free Press, and Color of Change.
Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, responded to the boycott by allegedly employing “warning labels” on posts. However, the platform won’t prevent users from posting hate speech as it would stop others from condemning it, which the company claims “is an important part of how we discuss what’s acceptable in our society.”
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