Over the course of five years, Facebook’s top executives were handed numerous warnings about event pages on the eponymous platform being used to stage hate-filled rallies and other extremist events that called for violence against Muslims and other religious and racial minorities, according to a major U.S. civil rights group.
Muslim Advocates, a national organization working to curb bigotry and xenophobia online, told Gizmodo on Wednesday that it had repeatedly warned Facebook officials about events that promoted violence being brazenly organized under their watch. The warnings, conveyed no fewer than 15 times since 2015, were delivered in writing—but also in person during private meetings at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, and once during an intimate dinner at CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s home.
The civil rights group, which has published a timeline of its interactions with Facebook, said company officials invariably disregarded its warnings. Their collective inaction, spanning half a decade, is now viewed by the group as evidence of a conscious decision by Facebook to permit gun-totting militias and prolific hate groups to hound and threaten ordinary Muslims outside of mosques and religious centers across the country.
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.
A 17-year-old white vigilante would go on to kill two people during the clashes in Kenosha after traveling 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 he 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 “weaponized” 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 immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the company said they are reviewing the timeline published by Muslim Advocates.
Muslim Advocates is a member of Change the Terms, a coalition of more than 50 civil rights organizations 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 organizing 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.”