The lawsuit, lodged in District of Columbia Superior Court in Washington on Thursday, states that the company misled the US Congress and others by falsely claiming it removes content that violates its policies, including anti-Muslim groups and pages flagged by rights organizations and experts.
This included pages and groups with names that contained calls to “unite against,” “purge” or “wipe out” Islam, according to the filing.
"What we're saying in the lawsuit to Facebook is, 'Do one of two things: Stop lying, or have your actions conform to your statements,'" Muslim Advocates lawyer Mary Bauer said.
Social media platforms have long been scrutinized over their handling of hate speech, violent content and other abuses on their platforms.
In July 2020, Facebook published a civil rights audit it commissioned, saying the company ought to invest more resources to study and address organized hate against Muslims and other targeted groups on the platform.
Facebook's Community Standards also ban hate speech, violent and graphic content and "dangerous individuals and organizations," like an organized hate group.
“We do not allow hate speech on Facebook and regularly work with experts, non-profits, and stakeholders to help make sure Facebook is a safe place for everyone, recognizing anti-Muslim rhetoric can take different forms,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. “We have invested in AI technologies to take down hate speech, and we proactively detect 97 percent of what we remove.”
The lawsuit, however, insists that Facebook, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and other executives break the district’s consumer protection law through their claims about removing such content.
Zuckerberg has appeared before Congress seven times since 2018 and told lawmakers the company removes contents that violate Facebook’s policies.
Civil rights groups have, however, criticized the company for consistently failing to enforce these rules.
In their lawsuit, Muslim Advocates asserts there is a "systemic problem of anti-Muslim hate" on Facebook.
"This is not, 'Oh a couple of things are falling through the cracks,'" Bauer said. "This is pervasive content that persists despite academics pointing it out, nonprofits pointing it out. Facebook has made a decision to not take this material down."
The lawsuit cites research carried out by Elon University professor Megan Squire, who found that anti-Muslim bias serves "as a common denominator among hate groups around the world" on Facebook.
In 2018, Squire notified the company that there were over 200 anti-Muslim groups on its platform, but, according to the suit, half of them still remain active.
None of the groups have many followers, however, the company has not shut them down, a measure, Muslim Advocates says, should have been taken long ago.