“Anti-Muslim groups are way worse, in every way, than what I would have guessed coming in,” Megan Squire, a researcher who just finished a study on anti-muslim Facebook groups, told Buzzfeed News. She found that the groups were filled with content that violates Facebook’s hate speech policy. Yet the groups, many of which had tens of thousands of members, remained up.
A closed Facebook group named “Death to Murdering Islamic Muslim Cult Members” warned it’s time to “wipe out all traces” of Muslims and Islam from the planet. In another group, an image of a B-52 bomber dropping its payload appears under a caption that reads “Islam is the cancer.” Yet another anti-Muslim Facebook group has a header image of the charred, lifeless body of a child lying face down on the ground. The group’s name declares that Islamophobia “saves lives.”
Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University, collected the data during a 10-month study of hundreds far-right Facebook groups. She analyzed the data in a paper entitled “Network Analysis of Anti-Muslim Groups on Facebook,” which she will present at a conference in September. She emphasizes that all of the data she collected was publicly availably, and that she didn’t engage in any “privacy shenanigans” to get it, a la Cambridge Analytica.
Squire found that anti-Muslim sentiments seemed to be the “common denominator” of many far-right ideologies, she told Buzzfeed. “Some of the anti-Muslim groups are central players in the hate network as a whole. And the anti-Muslim groups show more membership crossover with other ideologies than I expected,” she said.
Buzzfeed describes her methods:
Squire used Facebook’s Graph API to compile a data set of more than 700,000 members of 1,870 closed and public Facebook groups spanning various far-right ideologies. Relying on definitions from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama-based nonprofit that monitors hate groups, she narrowed her search to five of the most popular categories: neo-Confederate, white nationalist, anti-government/militia, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim.
Among Facebook users who were members of multiple extremist Facebook groups, Squire found that 61% of “multi-issue” users who were in anti-immigrant groups had also joined anti-Muslim groups; the same was true for 44% of anti-government, 37% of white nationalist, and 35% of neo-Confederate groups.
Many of these groups explicitly violated Facebook’s Community Standards. For example, a group called Veterans Against Islamic Filth, with 2,700 members, violated a specific Facebook rule against referring to a group of people as “filth.” Yet the group remained up until Buzzfeed contacted Facebook for comment on the story.
Facebook has been in the spotlight recently for their waffling over what constitutes hate speech and which groups violate their community standards. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was subject to backlash after he said in an interview that he wouldn’t ban Holocaust deniers from the platform, despite disagreeing with their views. The platform has also been criticized for allowing Alex Jones’ Infowars page to remain up while they claim to battle “fake news” on the platform.
“There is no place for hate speech on Facebook. If someone reports hate speech on Facebook, we remove it if it violates our Community Standards,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Facebook is currently in the midst of an independent “civil rights audit.” They announced the audit alongside a review of alleged “anti-conservative bias” on the platform.
Squire doesn’t buy that Facebook is doing all it can to prevent hate speech. “I don’t know how they can have their head in the sand about it. They have all the data. This isn’t hard,” Squire told Buzzfeed.“You know how I find these groups? A Facebook search. Nobody’s doing anything funky, we’re just typing in stuff like ‘Death to Islam.’”